Sunday, 21 May 2017

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

So many various and varied roads led me to read What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt this week.


Firstly, she is one of my dear friend's favourite writers (along with Paul Auster). I have resisted for several years now for no particular reason. However, Hustvedt's books are always there, lurking in the back of my mind, waiting for me to pay them attention.

In the past few weeks I have read three truly amazing, but very different books that have a connection to either New York City, art, post-modernism, love or loss - The Museum of Modern Love, Exit West and Insomniac City.

Last week, as I was unpacking boxes at work, the red tinted edges of Sceptre's 30th anniversary special edition of What I Loved grabbed my attention. I flicked open the pages randomly and landed on the top of page 103 and read,
Not once in all my years of marriage had I asked myself whether I loved Erica. For about a year after we met, I had been thoroughly unhinged by her. My heart had pounded. My nerves had tensed with longing until I could almost here them buzz. My appetite had vanished, and I had withdrawal symptoms when I wasn't with her.

I was hooked.
This brief passage reached out to me and insisted I read the rest of it now. It felt real and it felt urgent. It was also set in NYC and featured an artist as one of the main characters.
I was in!

Hustvedt divided the book into three acts. The first act was the getting to know you section that occasionally dragged a little.
Leo is our narrator and protagonist. We become intimately connected to his wife Erica, their friends, Bill, Violet and Lucille and the children Matthew and Mark. Bill is an artist - his work fascinates Leo, which is what brings them altogether.

I found the descriptions of Bill's art work overly long and, well, tedious, at times, although I gradually realised that they gave us many psychological insights into Bill's character as well as allowing Hudsvedt many opportunities to explore her ideas about perception and seeing and interpretation.

Early on Leo remarks that one of Bill's paintings reminds him of Jan Steen's woman at her morning toilet which he saw at the Rijksmuseum. Bill acknowledges the connection and says,
I'm not interested in nudes. They're too arty, but I'm really interested in skin

They note how you can see the imprint in the woman's skin made by the string that keeps the top of the sock up. Hustvedt plays with the notion of what is skin deep and how what we do (and think) impacts on our bodies. Impressions, influences and surface details versus intent, consciousness and internal meaning also get explored throughout the book.

Naturally I had to source this painting to see it for myself.

Woman at her Toilet, Jan Havickszoon Steen, 1655 - 1660
Curiously Steen seems to have painted this idea twice. The painting above is the one that hangs in the Rijksmuseum. The one below is part of the Royal Collection Trust.

I now wonder if this example of duality was a deliberate choice by Hustvedt or merely happy coincidence.

A Woman at her Toilet 1663 Jan Steen

Act two reveals why the title is written in the past tense. The pace and tension within the story also picks up from here. If you have been struggling with the first chapter, I urge you to wait until the second to make up your mind about whether to continue or not.

I loved the vague sense of foreboding and dread that simmered under the surface during the final two acts. Love, grief, hope, disappointment, trust, despair, loyalty and forgiveness are just some of the heavy emotions that swirl around our characters. It was an emotional roller coaster ride that I couldn't, and didn't want to get off.

I'm always fascinated when an author writes in the voice of someone of the opposite sex. Colm Toibin has impressed me in the past with his ability to write from the female perspective and here, I feel that Hustvedt has captured the male voice so well.

She said in an interview with Bookslut in 2008,

Writing as a man is not an act of translation but means becoming a man while you are working, not unlike an actor becoming his role. I truly believe that most of us have men and women within us and can hear the voices of both sexes, as well as feel the nuanced and sometimes blatant differences between them. A male voice necessarily carries more authority that a woman’s simply because as a culture we give men that privilege. As a woman, I take pleasure in adopting the dominant male tone and assuming a central role, but I have also found that wrenching my perspective away from the feminine, I’ve been able to discover feelings, images, and thoughts I wouldn’t have had without the transformation.

The ageing Leo makes a cameo appearance in Hustvedt's later novel, The Sorrows of an American (2008) a story about immigration that follows the lives of siblings, Erik and Inga. Hustvedt said in the same interview that she 'missed Leo terribly and felt compelled to bring him back.'

I will now have to read The Sorrows of an American as I also miss Leo terribly now that I have finished What I Loved.

Hustvedt is an intelligent writer who embraces her intelligence. I never felt like she was showing off for the sake of being clever. She was writing about something that meant a lot to her, that stirred her passions - intellectually and emotionally.

Inga’s irritation with American culture borders on outrage and reflects my own criticisms of life in the United States today. I once considered writing a book called Culture Nausea (which I proceeded to give to Inga) in which I planned to rail against media cant, rampant anti-intellectualism, political verbiage, the revolting trampling over the rule of law, the wholesale adoption of received ideas without the slightest examination, the lust for the ugly confession, and innumerable other thorns in my side. (Bookslut 2008 interview)

I suspect most of her books reflect Inga's irritation and outrage, certainly What I Loved does and I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed reading a book that engaged my brain and my heart at the same time.

What I Loved was longlisted for the 2003 Orange Prize (now the Baileys Women's Prize)

Friday, 19 May 2017

10 Books I Have Read

#10books is a meme that has been going around Litsy.
How well do you know my reading habits?


1. Lord of the Flies
2. The Day of the Triffids
3. Fahrenheit 451
4. Of Mice and Men
5. Peyton Place
6. Fifty Shades of Grey
7. 1984
8. Gone Girl
9. Wuthering Heights
10. Lady Chatterley's Lover

Can you guess which book is the lie?

If you'd like to join in #10books please leave your link in the comments so that I can check out your list too.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Fall by Tristan Bancks

I read The Fall by Australian writer Tristan Bancks as one of my recent #readathon books.


Bancks has been very successful with his previous book, Two Wolves (titled On the Run in the US), winning the KOALA & YABBA Children's Choice Book Awards in 2015 as well as being shortlisted for the CBCA and Australian Prime Minister's Literary Awards. I have been meaning to read it for two years now.

He also has a younger reader series called My Life about a boy called Tom Weekly who now has five books full of jokes, cartoons and 'other stuff he made up'.
I am not the target audience for these books, but the 9 year old boys in my life tell me that they are very funny and gross!

The Fall is aimed at a slightly older reader. It's a fast paced, easy to read thriller with gripping end of chapter cliffhangers. The prefect late in the day #readathon book!

I enjoyed the Alfred Hitchcock-esque Rear Window beginning, as young Sam overhears an argument, late one night, in the apartment above his dad's. Sam has had a recent knee operation and is still learning how to get around on his crutches. He hobbles over to the window to hear the argument better, when suddenly a body falls past his window.

What follows is pure Hitchcock - a missing body, break ins and a mysterious girl next door. Add in a dodgy dad, a suspicious police chief and oodles of near misses for non-stop thrills and spills.

A terrific action-packed crime story for mature 10+ readers.

The Fall is a June release for Penguin Random House Australia.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa

One of my recent #readathon reads was the delightfully eccentric Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Isawa. When my eyes started to get tired and words began to blur on the page, the simple but fun illustrations from Jun Takabatake were just the eye candy I needed.


The premise of the story is simple - Giraffe is bored. Until, that is, he spots a sign on a tree from an equally bored pelican who has decided to start up a postal service, 'willing to deliver anything anywhere'!

Giraffe decides to write a letter. He gives it to pelican with the instruction 'give it to the first animal you meet on the other side of the horizon.'



What follows is a rather absurd, but oh so charming tale of mistaken identity and misunderstanding as giraffe and his new penpal, penguin, try to imagine what each other look like and what it would be like to live on the other side of the horizon.

For teachers and parents, the added bonus with Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is the chance to discuss letter writing, difference and perception with your emerging reader. It's also a fabulous book to read aloud together.

New Zealand based Gecko Press have become renown for their promotion of unconventional, diverse and humorous books for children. These include Rose Lagercrantz's My Happy Life books and Ulf Nilsson's Detective Gordon series. Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is another quirky addition.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes was my third bloody brilliant book in a row.

I went from the stunning award winning Museum of Modern Love by Australian author Heather Rose to the thought-provoking Exit West by Moshin Hamid to Bill Hayes' beautiful, heart-felt love story about his partner Oliver Sacks and New York City.


The three books felt interconnected by theme (love, loss and belonging), creativity & art and by my response. All three books stimulated and enticed me to read deeply and thoughtfully.

New York City also played a part in both The Museum of Modern Love and this book, as well as helping me choose my next (and current) read, What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.

These four books will now be forever linked together in my mind.

My copy of Insomniac City is the rather lush hardback edition with deckled edges. The cover has one of Bill's photographs of the cross street near his home across it, while the dark blue jacket has little windows cut out to see through to the colours underneath.


Insomniac City is part memoir, part observation and part journal. Hayes' writing is poetic and mesmerising. His kindness and generosity shines through on every page. I felt inspired by how he could find beauty in everyday life and his power to create a meaningful connection with those around him.

Bill has also littered the pages with many of his New York photographs featured on his Instagram page (found here).

The only problem, however, that I soon discovered with deckled edges, is how hard it is to flick though the pages. I had marked, in pencil, several significant passages and possibilities to include in this post.

The only one I could easily find again was this remark of Oliver's to Bill,
The most we can do is to write - intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively- about what it is like living in this world at this time.

This is something they both excelled at and something that I aim to do (however imperfectly) here at Brona's Books.

My reading doesn't occur in a vacuum.
It's influenced by what is going on around me as well as inside of me. Sometimes I want an emotional reading experience (happy, sad or anywhere in between) and sometimes I want to be engaged on an intellectual level.

The very best of books do both at the same time.

I have now read three books in a row that do just that.

Spring Shadows in New York - Bill Hayes
Bill Hayes is one of the many authors appearing at this year's Sydney Writer's Festival - another reason why I was moved to read this book.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid has divided many readers and reviewers. (For an interesting cross section of responses try My Booking Great Read, Michael @Knowledge Lost, Rachel @Pace Amore, Libri, and Kate @Books are my Favourite and Best).

I was therefore prepared for the pared back, deceptively simple writing style that has kept many reviewers at an emotional distance.

Curiously I embraced it - I never felt distanced or detached at all. Every word and phrase popped with restrained emotion and hidden depths.


I am not an effusive, flowery kind of person.
I consider myself to be discreet and reticent in person. But I'm often a seething, swirling mess of contradictory feelings underneath.

Nadia and Saeed felt like versions of me. Cautious, quiet, thoughtful, understated, but with a lot going on inside.

Hamid's writing style suited my temperament to a tee.

Exit West also came into my life at the right time.

I began reading Exit West immediately after I finished the wonderful award winning The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose and straight after seeing the ABC's Book Club episode that featured the book.

Generally speaking, if Marieke Hardy likes a book, I do too (one obvious exception being her love affair with Amis which I simply do not share). It felt like the book gods (or at least Marieke) were telling me that this book had to be next. I was ready and receptive and the book was on hand.

The Museum of Modern Love contained themes of silence, connection, time, loss and love.
So did Exit West.

As I began reading, it felt in a weird way that is hard to adequately explain, that the love and connection I had for the language, art & ideas in Rose's book flowed straight into what I was experiencing in Exit West.
So much so that Hamid's startling (but sparing) use of magic realism ended up being an added bonus for me, not a distraction or in the least off-putting.

From the rather terrifying appearance of the very first door, I was intrigued...and hooked.

In an interview with Cressida Leyshon in The New Yorker last year, Hamid discussed the use of the magical doors that transported refugees from a place of danger to a place of greater safety in an instant.
I don’t entirely believe in the reality of realism. Lived human experience is too weird. Neuroscientists tell us that our brains are constantly constructing a representation of the world that is useful but is also inaccurate, invented. Mystics tell us much the same. I’ve always had an element of the unreal in my books. A little bit of the unreal can heighten our sense of reality by allowing us to experience something that knows it is a fiction but feels at the same time true. In the past, the strand of unreality I’ve explored has mostly been a formal strand, one rooted in the form a novel takes, the way it sets up the story it is telling. This time, the strand of unreality is in the plot, in the physics of the world, with the existence of these doors. The doors felt quite real to me when I was writing them. I could imagine them existing. And they allowed me to compress the next century or two of human migration on our planet into the space of a single year, and to explore what might happen after

Once I got over the unexpected shock of the first door, I liked this device a lot. It took the journey out of the story and made it instead, a story about the gradual disintegration into chaos and war of a once civilised society. And a story about adjusting to a new place - a new place that may not be exactly welcoming.

The new refuges also became Hamid's point of hope for the reader.
In some near distant future these purpose built cities could give us all a way out of our current world-wide refugee crisis (Hamid discusses this further in The New Yorker article linked above).

A colleague felt that the end left too many things unsaid or unexplored in Nadia and Saeed's relationship, the two young lovers at the heart of this story. I've been trying to work out why this didn't concern me and I think it was simply because the ending felt real to me. It wasn't resolved or tied up in a neat bow. I appreciated the layers, the nuance and the messiness of their love. None of the changes or choices that Saeed or Nadia made surprised me - they felt consistent with my perception of them.

Another link between Exit West and The Museum of Modern Love was the occasional reference to art and artists. In this instant, Saeed and Nadia are discussing and sharing images by the photographer, Thierry Cohen.
Nadia thought about this. They were achingly beautiful, these ghostly cities - New York, Rio, Shanghai, Paris - under their stains of stars, images as though from an epoch before electricity, but with the buildings of today. Whether they looked like the past, or the present, or the future, she couldn't decide.
French photographer, Thierry Cohen, Darkened Cities series - Shanghai
The past, the present and the future all played their part in this beautiful story which has become one of my favourite reads for 2017 (and a potential reread as soon as possible).

N.B. One of the other panellist's on The Book Club, Omar Musa, also thought very highly of the book, but his praise was qualified as he felt that Hamid's previous works were stronger and better. Needless to say, I'm now on the lookout for a copy of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Moth Smoke.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Usually I prefer to start a book knowing as little about it as possible, especially contemporary fiction. I like to come at it without any prejudices or preconceived ideas so that I can make up my own mind.

However that was not the case with the Stella Prize winning book The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose.


Based on nothing but the cover and it's shortlisting for the Stella, I had decided that I would probably give this book a go one day when I felt like a bit of love mixed with art. The tag 'a novel inspired by Marina Abramović' rang no bells at the time except to tell me that this story would be based on someone's real life.

But then I read Kim @readingmatters review, which lead me to Lisa @ANZlitlovers and Kate @booksaremyfavouriteandbest and I realised very quickly that I did indeed know who Marina Abramović was. 
And knowing that moved The Museum of Modern Love straight to the top of my TBR pile.

A while back I had seen Ulay's video (below) as it made it's rounds on social media. Ulay was Abramović's former partner.
I have been haunted by the old lover's reuniting scenario in this video ever since - the look in Marina's eyes and the whole concept behind the staging of the Artist is Present (2010) exhibition fascinated me. 


Having watched this (and several others about Marina's show since) I do now wonder about Ulay's song that plays over this video. It feels a little like Marina's performance has been usurped by his agenda (there is another youtube video of this meeting available that Abramović's team produced as well). But that's an another story....

After reading Kim. Kate & Lisa's reviews I found an archival documentary by Nicola Flint (below) and read this article in The Guardian about Abramović's 2014 exhibition at The Serpentine Gallery in London.


As you can see I became fascinated (okay obsessed) very quickly...and I hadn't even opened the book at this point!

I had very high expectations for this book and it didn't disappoint, although it wasn't exactly what I thought it would be either. By the end though, I had no idea how I could possibly review it any better or more succinctly than Kim, Lisa & Kate had done before me.

It was the art that stood out for me though.

There were so many discussions by the characters about various exhibitions and modern artists that I had no idea about. With each one, I felt the need to google and find out more. This on-the-side research added a great deal of aesthetic and intellectual pleasure to my reading experience.

Reading and researching The Museum of Modern Love became my very own personal art therapy session.

Early on in the novel, Jane Miller (a visitor to New York) on her way to MoMA to see Abramovic's performance, looked up and caught 
sight of the silhouette of a man standing high on the edge of a nearby building. She had squinted, puzzled, ready to be alarmed. But then with a thrill she recognised it as one of the Antony Gormley sculptures dotting New York's skyline through spring.

Rather spooky isn't it?
Antony Gormley has now (re)created several Event Horizon shows around the world including the original in London in 2007, New York in 2010 and Hongkong in 2015/6.

Jane Miller again:  'I think art saves people all the time.'

Yes, Jane, I think so too.
I know that it saves me on a regular, almost, daily basis.

(She) thought instead of Gustav Metzger. Metzger liked to drape cloths over things. He had draped cloth over images of the Holocaust. He might drop a cloth right over Marina Abramović
Historic Photographs: To Crawl Into - Anschluss, Vienna, March 1938 (1996/2011)

Sadly, when I googled Metzer for this post, I discovered that he had died just last month at the age of 90. The idea of what can be seen, what is hidden, who is doing the looking and who is hiding were themes that Rose played with throughout the story.

Jane, again (she was an art teacher which explains her interest and knowledge. Rose used her very effectively to provide the reader with relevant information and as a gentle provocateur):
Brancusi, the sculptor, for thirty years or more, worked exclusively with two forms - the circle and the square. Every sculpture was a marriage of the egg and the cube....I think Abramović probably has the same thing in mind. She's asking us to look at things differently. Maybe to feel something invisible....she's always been exploring either intense movement or utter stillness.
Constatin Brancusi - The Kiss 1916

Keeble (a TV art critic, and a not so gentle provocateur):
'For several centuries now art has sat beside religion,' he said. "When we get overlap we get outrage. Take The Black Madonna. Piss Christ. Wim Delvoye tattooing the Madonna onto a pig's back. I'm uncomfortable with how religious it feels to walk into MoMA right now and see all those people literally kneeling or sitting about and staring at Abramović  as if she was a saint.'

Jesus (2005)

The novelist, Colm Toibin sat with Marina in real life and in the book. He wrote about it in The New York Review of Books. Rose's ability to weave together the real and the fictional was flawless.

Books also got mentioned by our characters - Muriel Barbery's, The Elegance of the Hedgehog and 1Q84 by Murakami. One I've read and one I haven't - but it is on my TBR pile. I love books that lead me to other books.

There were so many rich layers and ideas about art, life and love interwoven throughout this gorgeous story that, when I finished, it moved straight onto my To Be ReRead Pile.

Connection and convergence were major themes that resonated strongly with me...not only within the book, but with other real life stuff as well.

It felt like The Museum of Modern Love has now led me naturally, like stepping stones named art, New York and love straight into the arms of Mohsin Hamid's Exit West, Bill Hayes' Insomniac City and now Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved.

Synchronicity and convergence and connection at work on my bookshelves!

I have also been thinking (a lot) about how these things also play out it in our day to day lives.

Perhaps some of the highest praise I can give Rose's book is that it has not only opened up my mind, heart and world to modern art and the idea of art as therapy, but it has also inspired and informed my subsequent reading.

The other review for The Museum of Modern Love that I wanted to highlight was Heather's @Bits and Books.

Sadly, Heather Croxon died after being involved in an accident in early March.
I only knew Heather via her blog, Bits and Books and her instagram, litzy & twitter feeds, but the news gutted me when I first heard about it.

Her enthusiasm for books, the reading community and her budgie knew no bounds. I loved the time and effort she took to create beautifully styled book pics and I always enjoyed seeing her latest book recommendations and links for #6degrees and #TopTenTuesday.

I cannot imagine what Heather's family must be going through now, but if they somehow wander onto this post, I would like them to know how much fun and creativity Heather added to the book blogging world. She will be missed.
Heather was only 31.

Thank you also to Julianne and Andi @Dewey's 24hr Readathon for honouring Heather's memory in their recent post.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

I started the Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson as part of my #readathon session. I had a lovely 15th anniversary edition of this modern day classic, complete with gorgeous blue butterfly. The following day I woke up with a terrible head cold and struggled to work, before realising that I was going to need a couple of days at home in bed to actually get better.

Journey to the River Sea became the perfect easy, delightful read to see me through my first day of feeling miserable at home.


This book was a pleasure in and of itself, but it also brought back so many lovely memories of other favourite childhood characters. Our orphaned heroine, Maia upon hearing that she was being sent to the Amazon to live with cousins she had never met, channelled her inner Jane Eyre, when she gave herself this stern talking to,
Fear is the cause of all evil, she told herself but she was afraid. Afraid of the future...afraid of the unknown. Afraid in the way of someone who is alone in the world.

Followed up quickly by an Anne Shirley-esque remark, 'And after that I don't know, but it's going to be all right.' Maia is courageous, funny and intelligent - the kind of child, we all wish we had been more like (well, at least, the kind of child, I wish I had been like).

There's the forbidding but ultimately lovable governess who provides Maia with thoughtful care, fun and inspiring life advice just like Mary Poppins or Professor McGonagall. The Little Lord Fauntleroy aspect is explored via Clovis, the very homesick and unwilling theatrical orphan boy. The mean twins are Nellie Olsen, John Reed and Veruca Salt all rolled into one (well, actually two, but you know what I mean!) And the lost boy, living with the Indians, has a touch of the Huck Finn's or Peter Pan about him.


Journey to the River Sea is historical fiction with heart. Set in 1910 England and Manaus on the banks of the Negro River in Brazil, Ibbotson gives us a tale of belonging, bravery and being true to yourself. There's also a treasure trove of gorgeous geography and anthropological treats along the way, with references to Humboldt, sloths and butterflies, just to name a few.

Highly recommended for mature 10+ readers and all lovers of fine children's literature.

My post for One Dog and His Boy from 2011 - when my reviews were short, sweet & simple.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

#6Degrees May 2017

#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 link, otherwise, you just have to take my word for it!

This month the starting book is The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.
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 have tried to read The Slap several times, but simply cannot get past the first page.
Lots of people have highly recommended this book to me, but I just can't do it.
I couldn't even watch the TV series.


I have the same problem with The Light Between Oceans.
I can't get past the first page and I have no intention of seeing the movie.


I could probably fill a whole #6degrees with books that I can't read past the first page, however, that would be a tad boring. So, instead I will link to a lighthouse.

One of my favourite children's picture books is The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch by Ronda & David Armitage. Ronda was born and raised in New Zealand while David grew up in Tasmania. However, the were living in the UK when they wrote/illustrated the book together.
Debate still rages over which lighthouse they were referencing!


There are cheeky, talking seagulls, a hungry lighthouse keeper and a scaredy cat, called Hamish.
Which leads me beautifully to my favourite and best (see what I did there?) Hamish of all time.

Hamish Macbeth *big sigh & girly swoon*


I was a huge and avid fan of the BBC TV series set in the fictional town of Lochdubh.
But I had no idea at the time, that it was based on a series of books by M C Beaton.
I read the first book (in a series of 29!) called Death of a Gossip a few years ago.

Another Scottish gem with a bit more literary cred (shortlisted for last year's Man Booker) was His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet.


Set in the Scottish Highlands, this psychological thriller claimed to be a true story about Burnet's ancestor, Roderick Macrae. But it wasn't.
It was highly entertaining and fiendishly good fiction dressed up as fact.

Which leads me back to Australia and our famous 'is this true or not?' story, Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. I was devastated when I discovered that the story was pure fiction.

Joan Lindsay was an interesting character - she believed that clocks and other machinery would stop in her presence & she apparently dreamt most of the story about Picnic at Hanging Rock. Her parents were friends with Martin Boyd, she studied painting under Frederick McCubbin and married Norman Lindsay's brother, Daryl.

I hope to find out lots more when I dive into Beyond the Rock by Janelle McCulloch.


My chain went from a modern Aussie backyard BBQ, to lighthouses, the Scottish Highlands and back to the Australia bush circa 1900.

Where did your chain take you?

Next month (June 3, 2017), the chain will begin with Steve Martin’s Shopgirl.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Classics Book Tag

I have been using Feedly for a while now as a way to put all my favourite bloggers together in one place so that I find their latest posts easily. However during a recent few days off work due to illness, I was going through the lists to tidy things up when I realised that I had somehow lost all my Classic Clubbers. 

It took a whole day to rectify this mistake, using the huge list of Classic Clubbers here. Sadly, in the five years since the CC first started many of the blogs listed have changed URL's, been taken over by Chinese shopping sites, have drifted off the blogosphere completely or have simply been inactive for over a couple of years.

However I now think I have found most of you again! I also found a few more new-to-me lovely looking blogs full of lots of delicious classic reviews to enjoy at my leisure.

Chinese Skirt 1(933) Agnes Noyes Goodsir

One of the things I spotted in my catch-up phase was a Classics Book Tag completed by Joseph @The Once Lost Wanderer and Ruth @A Great Book Study. They both kindly tagged anyone who felt like joining in.

1. An over-hyped classic you never really liked:


I have to agree with Ruth on this one.
I've tried Wuthering Heights twice but it failed to excite me or impress me in any way shape or form.
Although Kate Bush's version may have doomed the book forever. 
How could any book ever live up to this song!



2. Favourite time period to read about:


So many - 18th century Russia & the revolution, 17th century France & the revolution, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian & Edwardian England, Chinese history & the revolution, 18th century India up to & including the Partition era and the Holocaust.

Reading in Autumn Mountain (Ming Dynasty) Shen Zhou

3. Favourite fairy tale:

As a child I adored the story of Snow White and Rose Red.
Just seeing the cover of my old edition still gives me goosebumps.


4. What is the most embarrassing classic you have not read?


Given my love of Dickens I'm embarrassed to say that I have yet to read Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.

5. Top five classics you want to read:


Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
One of Ours by Willa Cather
Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

6. Favourite modern book or series based on a classic:


Bridget Jones' Diary was a lot of fun, although Pride and Prejudice still has top spot in my heart.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is on my TBR pile - it's not so much based on Jane Eyre but more of a response or prequel, however I'm very keen to try it sooner rather than later.

7. Favourite movie version or TV series based on a classic:


Joseph already nominated one of my all time favourites To Kill a Mockingbird, so I will simply add Gweneth Paltrow's Emma which helped me to appreciate the book more & Gone With the Wind.


8. Worst classic to movie adaptation:


That's easy - Watership Down - what were they thinking? Not even Art Garfunkle could save it.

9. Favourite editions you would like to collect more of:


I love my few Folio Society editions and I wish it was easier (ie cheaper) for me to buy more of them and some of the Persephone books too.
I adore my Virago Modern Classic designer covers too.

10. An under-hyped classic: 


So Big by Edna Ferber.
I read this Pulitzer prize winning book for a previous spin.
I loved it and was so surprised that it had fallen out of favour and out of print.
I plan to hype it up again every chance I get.




If you'd like to join in, please consider yourself tagged!

To make it easier for you the questions are repeated below for a quick copy and paste.
Simply pop back here with your completed post and leave your URL in the comments so I can visit you in return.


Happy Reading & Happy Weekend!


1. An over-hyped classic you never really liked:
2. Favourite time period to read about:
3. Favourite fairy tale:
4. What is the most embarrassing classic you have not read?
5. Top five classics you want to read:
6. Favourite modern book or series based on a classic:
7. Favourite movie version or TV series based on a classic:
8. Worst classic to movie adaptation:
9. Favourite editions you would like to collect more of:
10. An under-hyped classic:

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Fellowship of the Ring by J R RTolkien

The books that comprise The Lord of the Rings are usually presented as a trilogy, but it was in fact designed by Tolkien to be one single book with six parts. Obviously the publishers baulked at publishing such a large tome of a book!


On 29th July 1954 George Allen & Unwin published the first volume consisting of the first two books with the title The Fellowship of the Ring.

The second volume, with the next two books was eventually titled The Two Towers and published on 11th November 1954. The final two books were published in The Return of the King on 20th October 1955.

**Spoiler alert**
I'm now assuming that you have read the book so that we can discuss the details of what has happened.

Book Two of The Fellowship of the Ring, is, well, all about the fellowship.

We begin this section of Lord of the Rings in Rivendell where we meet all the participants of the fellowship for the first time together. We hear their back stories and find out how they ended up in Rivendell at this time.

The Gates of Moria by Alan Lee

Tolkien used all kinds of storytelling devices to keep our interest and to build up the tension.

There's the info-dump chapter where we find out all about the ring's long and dubious history. Tolkien again used the action-packed chapters full of danger and tension followed by the safe-haven chapters of comfort and ease to keep the pace up without exhausting all of us.

The humour of Merry and Pippin and the gravitas of Gandalf provided light and shade. While foreshadowing continued to be one of Tolkien's favourite ways of promoting a sense of anticipation and foreboding.

Tolkien employed metafiction when Bilbo talked about his 'story' that he was writing about his journey and the parts still to be written or completed. Although I'm reluctant to call it metafiction as I don't think that Tolkien used this technique in a deliberately self-conscious or ironic way or in an attempt to question what was real or not.

Tolkien's ability to reference the depth and breadth of his created world was particularly impressive in the two books of The Fellowship - the song that Bilbo sang, the backstory of the ring, Moria and it's long history, the extensive descriptions of the scenery, the longevity of the Elves - although this immensely rich historical detail can at times be overwhelming to the unsuspecting reader.

This particular book also had deep sadness and loss. Gandalf's stand on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum is one of the pivotal moments in the whole story.

The very strong faith based themes evident within Gandalf's stand, fall & ultimate resurrection never felt like Tolkien was preaching. He always said that he never wrote the book with analogies in mind, but obviously the religious stories that he grew up with were a central part of his life and influenced the type of story he wrote as well as infiltrating the various details.

In The Letters of J R R Tolkien* No. 142 To Robert Murray, SJ on 2 December 1953, Tolkien said,
The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. However that is very clumsily put, and sounds more self-important than I feel.

Unlike C S Lewis' Narnia series that is heavily and overtly Christian, it is possible to read The Lord of the Rings without thinking about the religious symbolism at all. It certainly escaped my earlier, younger reading of the books.

Researching Tolkien's intentions for this reread has added layers of meaning to my understanding of the story and of Tolkien himself, but with or without these layers, LOTR remains a rip-roaring, satisfying read.

Perhaps, like Tolkien, my first, early reading was quite unconscious, with this reread being much more conscious and deliberate on the look-out for symbolism and themes.


The mysterious lurking presence of Gollum haunts our journey throughout The Fellowship. We all know he's there, we're all on our guard, but no one wants to talk about it. Yet.

The landscape was all important as well. It affected the decisions that the fellowship had to make along the way and Tolkien also used it to explain certain characteristics of the various races  - thank goodness for the map inside the cover of the book to make sense of all that 'east of this/west of that' stuff.

My Alan Lee illustrated edition also helped to bring many of the places to life which made up for my woeful lack of imagination.


The Fellowship of the Ring was also all about the ring.

The ring personifies evil and is quickly established as a character in its own right. Some of the ring stuff is confusing. For instance, the how and why of the three rings are how exactly they are linked to the one, but not necessarily evil?

I'm not really sure if Tolkien's letter* to Milton Waldman (No. 131, circa 1951) helped clarify anything at all!

The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. 'change' viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance – this is more or less an Elvish motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor – thus approaching 'magic', a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination. And finally they had other powers, more directly derived from Sauron ('the Necromancer': so he is called as he casts a fleeting shadow and presage on the pages of The Hobbit): such as rendering invisible the material body, and making things of the invisible world visible....
The Elves of Eregion made Three supremely beautiful and powerful rings, almost solely of their own imagination, and directed to the preservation of beauty: they did not confer invisibility. But secretly in the subterranean Fire, in his own Black Land, Sauron made One Ring, the Ruling Ring that contained the powers of all the others, and controlled them, so that its wearer could see the thoughts of all those that used the lesser rings, could govern all that they did, and in the end could utterly enslave them. He reckoned, however, without the wisdom and subtle perceptions of the Elves. The moment he assumed the One, they were aware of it, and of his secret purpose, and were afraid. They hid the Three Rings, so that not even Sauron ever discovered where they were and they remained unsullied. The others they tried to destroy....
(LOTR) was begun in 1936,5 and every part has been written many times. Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered.

There was no where near as much fighting, violence and hand to hand combat in this book as I remember from the movie. Thank goodness!

I found the extensive and over the top battles in all of the movies tiresome and tedious. It often felt like the movie moved from one battle scene to the next. This reread has reminded me that the fighting scenes in The Fellowship at least, were sporadic and low-key, although I still found myself skimming parts of them at times.

The mirror of Galadriel by Alan Lee

The Fellowship of the Ring contained themes of isolationism vs connection, appearances vs reality and the passing of time. Courage, friendship, the corruption of power, fate vs free will and temptation also got a look in.

Some reviews have complained about the overly long descriptions and unsophisticated language. Occasionally I understand the complaint about the descriptions, but the uncomplicated language is one of the things that makes this story so accessible to young and old as well as to those readers who tend to avoid fantasy. I actually find the childlike elements in the story endearing not simplistic.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien* No. 35, 2nd February 1939:

I think The Lord of the Rings is in itself a good deal better than The Hobbit, but it may not prove a very fit sequel. It is more grown up – but the audience for which The Hobbit was written has done that also. The readers young and old who clamoured for 'more about the Necromancer' are to blame, for the N. is not child's play

The lack of emotional depth can be more problematic to a modern reader used to complex, nuanced character development, however nostalgia is the predominate feeling in these books, and that is something we can all tap into.

The Letters of J R R Tolkien* No. 76 - In a letter to Christopher, 28th July 1944:

As to Sam Gamgee. I quite agree with what you say, and I wouldn't dream of altering his name without your approval; but the object of the alteration was precisely to bring out the comicness, peasantry, and if you will the Englishry of this jewel among the hobbits. Had I thought it out at the beginning, I should have given all the hobbits very English names to match the shire.

I feel like I've thrown a lot of bits and pieces together from my notes with only a passing nod at coherence. I hope I haven't overloaded you!

Enough of the chatter! It's time to hit the road again and check in on our stoic ring-bearer and friends.

*The Letters of J R R Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter and assisted by Christopher Tolkien 1981.


#HLOTRreadalong2017 


The Fellowship of the Ring 

- Halfway post - Book one 
  - TFOTR - Book two

              

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Two Towers - Welcome to Book

It's time to check into the The Two Towers, and yes, I know I have yet to complete my review or wrap up post for The Fellowship of the Ring.

Unfortunately I have come down with some kind of flu bug that has knocked me for a six.

I promise to catch up soon, but for now here is the starting post for the next part of our #HLOTRreadalong2017. Please add your reviews to the link below and I'll pop by for a visit when I'm back on my feet.


I'm rereading the books over a leisurely period of time. I want to savour my illustrated editions and feel no pressure to be finished by a set date. My reading time frames are generous but also designed to keep things ticking along.


The Fellowship of the Ring in March - April
The Two Towers in May - June
The Return of the King in July - August


My plans for the #HLOTRreadalong2017 will be to:

  • Post a master post where people can sign up to join the readlaong or write their own post about their previous experiences with #HLOTR. Or if this is their first time, a post about why they've decided now is the time to read Tolkien. (tick)
  • Write a welcome to book post for the start of each book, providing basic facts, background information and my proposed reading pace.
                       The Hobbit  (tick)
                       The Fellowship of the Ring  (tick)
                       The Two Towers  (tick)
                       The Return of the Ring
  • Have at least one check-in post about halfway through each book - to see how everyone is going, to ask questions, rant, rave or refute.
                       The Fellowship of the Ring  (tick)
  • Post a wrap up/review at the end of each book where we can discuss our thoughts and feelings, ask questions and practice our Elvish! (links will be attached to the book titles above with the month that we read them.)
If you'd like to join in the LOTR section of the readalong, please feel free to write an introductory post heralding your intentions and share in the linky below. Latecomers are always welcome.

Tell us your history with Tolkien and the LOTR.
Why are you reading or rereading it now?
Have you learnt Elvish? Or read any other Tolkien books?

If you are rereading and would like to mention specific events that happen in the book, please remember to add **spoiler** alerts to protect the innocence of any first time readers.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Dewey's Readathon April 2017

Dewey's Readathon is one of my favourite weekends of the entire year - a whole 24 hours to settle down with a good book or ten and binge read A L L day!


Last October we had 1723 readers participating from all around the world - Australia, Austria, Bosnia, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, US and Wales.

I prefer to keep things simple, so I will use this one post for all my updates as well as for the memes that I join in throughout the day/night.

Starting Meme

Where Are You Reading?


I'm in Sydney, Australia.
My start time is 10 pm on Saturday the 29th April.
Therefore most of my readathon will actually occur on Sunday the 30th April.

I now have a lovely surprise birthday dinner to attend for a very dear friend on Saturday night, which involves quite a bit of travelling time. I hope to have an audio book lined up for part of the drive home.

What Do You Hope To Read?


I have several half finished books that I would like to spend some time with this weekend.
When I get that tired, weary feeling I have a few children's books to dip into as well.


Who Am I?


I am a book reader, book seller and book blogger.
I always carry a book wherever I go - you just never know when you might have a spare 10 minutes to read!
I love the classics, historical fiction, biography & memoir.
I'm passionate about reading Australian Women Writers.
I also love to travel and I'm an avid admirer of art.

My Readathon Plans?


I will check into twitterinstagram and litsy (@Brona) as I can throughout the readathon, but the actually reading part probably won't begin until the second half.

I plan to join in Fig and Thistle's #IGreadathon challenge - here.




In previous years it has got very quiet on social media during the Australian Sunday afternoon period as those on the other side of the world grab a snooze. To help those of us reading Down Under, we have created our own cheer squad #TeamANZ2017.

Our little group is growing every year.
If you'd like to be added to the team, please leave a comment below or message us on twitter.

Here are the members of #TeamANZ2017 - ElizabethRebecca, Elanor, JadeLouiseMaree, Nikks & Dimitra.

Elizabeth @Earl Grey Editing is also hosting hours 18-20 of the readathon (3-5 pm Sunday AEST).




I started work on this post several days ago. 

Since then I have been alerted to some tragic news about one of our #TeamANZ members. Sadly, Heather Croxon died after being involved in an accident in early March.
I only knew Heather via her blog, Bits and Books and her instagram, litzy & twitter feeds, but this news has gutted me.

Her enthusiasm for books, the reading community and her budgie knew no bounds. I loved the time and effort she took to create beautifully styled book pics and I always enjoyed seeing her latest book recommendations and links for #6degrees and #TopTenTuesday.

I cannot imagine what Heather's family must be going through now, but if they somehow wander onto this post, I would like them to know how much fun and creativity Heather added to the book blogging world. She will be missed.
Heather was only 31.

Thank you also to Julianne and Andi @Dewey's 24hr Readathon for honouring Heather's memory in their recent post.


Starting Pages:


The Fall pg 20
Yours Sincerely, Giraffe pg 0
Journey to the Rivers pg 0
The Disappearnce of Èmile Zola pg 105
Empress Dowager Cixi pg 115
Exit West pg 0
Barrangal Dyara pg 87

The End

My weekend away interfered with my readathon reading plans more than I anticipated. 
My friend's birthday party was bigger, longer and later than I thought, which meant I was tired (& a little seedy!) all day Sunday. 
By the time we got back home again, I only had 7 hrs left to read.

Thanks to my tiredness, I decided to stick with the kid's book on my list.
It was a good choice.
It felt like I read a lot which means that I now feel like I had a successful, albeit short, readathon.

Books and pages:

Womankind magazine - 6pgs
I read (& finished) The Fall by Tristan Bancks - 223pgs
Started (& finished) Your Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa - 102pgs
The Disappearance of Emile Zola by Micahel Rosen - 50pgs
Started Journey to the River Sea by Iva Ibbotson - 47pgs

Total: 428pgs

How did your fare?

The next readathon will be on 21st October 2017.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Fortune of the Rougons by Emile Zola

I cannot thank Fanda @Classiclit enough for once again hosting #Zoladdiction2017 - one of my favourite readalongs each year!


I used this year's readalong to go back to the very beginning of the Rougon-Macquart series, a little worried that reading out of order might muck up the flow of the stories. However, reading part of Brian Nelson's Introduction before beginning, set my mind at ease,
the very nature of The Fortune of the Rougons as the founding text of the Rougon-Macquart series means that a knowledge of the later novels will make it all the more rewarding to return to the 'origins'.

I say 'part of' the Introduction, as Nelson warned that 'readers who do not wish to learn details of the plot will prefer to read the Introduction as an Afterword'. Because I knew very little about the Second Empire era of French history, I read the Introduction carefully for the historical notes, leaving the plot discussion for later.

Zola's aim was to show one family and it's various members through the time of the Second Empire. 'though they may seem at first glance totally dissimilar from each other, (they) are, as analysis shows, linked together in the most profound way. Heredity, like gravity, has its laws.' (Preface)

I can now never know what it would be like to read this origin story without some knowledge of the later novels, but exactly as Nelson suggested, I found it extremely gratifying to see where the unforgettable Nana and Etienne had sprung from.

My Oxford World Classic edition of The Fortune of the Rougons has a fabulous family tree at the front which I referred to often. Nelson also listed which characters appear in which book. I was fascinated to see that Anna (Nana) and Etienne (Germinal) were half brother and sister and that their grandfather was the drunken, brutish, undisciplined Antoine. Their mother was the beaten and abused daughter, Gervaise (L'Assommoir) who had her first baby at fourteen. She also took to the bottle.


However the story actually begins with a potted tour of the fictional town of Plassans (which was based on Zola's Provençal childhood home of Aix). This area of rural France maintained the strongest republican resistance against Louis-Napoleon's 1851 coup.

Young Silvère (cousin to Gervaise) is in love with the even younger Miette. Their love is platonic and idyllic in nature while their passions are fired up in defence of the Republic. They get caught up in the insurgent's march for liberty and head off together singing the Marseillaise.

The middle chapters of the book then detail the family history of the Rougon's - starting with the mad matriarch - the sensual, scandalous Adélaïde. Zola eventually weaves his way through the various branches of the Rougon's and Macquart's, back to modern times and the role each member plays in the birth of the Second Empire.

He (Pascal) pondered over the growth of the family, with its different branches springing from one parent stock, whose sap carried the same seeds to the furthest twigs, which bent in different directions according to the ambient sunshine or shade. For a moment he thought he could see, in a flash, the future of the Rougon-Macquart family, a pack of wild, satiated appetites in the midst of a blaze of gold and blood.

This includes a hauntingly beautiful chapter about what befalls our two young idealistic lovers, Silvère and Miette.

If you have yet to embark on your own Zoladdiction journey, I urge you to get started as soon as possible. Although I didn't start with The Fortune of the Rougons, I wish I had, purely for the pleasure of starting where it all began.

Zola's writing is quite raw and angry compared to the more measured tones that I found in Nana and Germinal, but right from this beginning, he impresses with his descriptive power, his attention to all the sordid details and his commitment to the naturalist form of story telling.

Now I just have to decide whether I read the rest of the Rougon-Macquart series in chronological order, or in Zola's recommended reading order!


#Zoladdiction2017

My earlier reviews for Nana and Germinal.
Fanda's review of The Fortune of the Rougons is here (and her dedicated Zola blog here).
O @Behold the Stars has her review here.
The Books of Emile Zola website has a review written by Lisa @ANZlitlovers here.