Monday, December 22, 2014

It's Monday!

The Monday before Christmas is always busy, busy, busy for me.

When I was teaching , it was my first day off work & therefore the time to finalise everything for the summer holidays (ie pay rent & utilities up to the first week back at school in Feb, finish last minute shopping, pack bags, organise with neighbours to water the gardens, collect the mail etc).

Now that I'm in retail, the last Monday before Christmas involves extra work shifts, longer work shifts and much busier work shifts!
It's an exciting time - I love the hustle and bustle and everyone being so excited about reading and giving when they come into our little bookshop.

Trouble is, I'm the type who gets high-wired by excitement. I absorb all the energy and buzz and start bouncing off the ceiling! I find it hard to come down again, relax and get a good nights sleep.

I also find it hard to focus on a book at times like this. My mind wont settle, the words jump all over the place. I read a page and realise I have no idea what it was that I just read.

Somehow I managed to finish Gilbert's The Signature of All Things last week & write a review.I also read A Christmas Carol on the weekend.

The rest is a blur.

I have 3 more days of work, then a lovely 10 day break to relax with my family.

So what will I be reading during this time?

Given my head space right now, I will mostly be grazing until my holiday starts Christmas Eve afternoon.

I still have Adam Spencer's Number book to finish and Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. I've also started grazing the short stories in Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey.

"Ten tales are told by the souls of animals killed in human conflicts in the past century or so, from a camel in colonial Australia to a cat in the trenches in World War I, from a bear starved to death during the siege of Sarajevo to a mussel that died in Pearl Harbour. Each narrator also pays homage to an author who has written imaginatively about animals during much the same time span: Henry Lawson, Colette, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Tolstoy, Günter Grass, Julian Barnes, and others.

These stories are brilliantly plotted, exquisitely written, inevitably poignant but also playful and witty. They ask us to consider profound questions. Why do animals shock us into feeling things we can't seem to feel for other humans? Why do animals allow authors to say the unsayable? Why do we sometimes treat humans as animals, and animals as humans? Can fiction help us find moral meaning in a disillusioned world?

Over the next two weeks I plan to read:

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh for my Classic Club Spin

"Evelyn Waugh's second novel, "Vile Bodies" is his tribute to London's smart set. It introduces us to society as it used to be but that now is gone forever, and probably for good.

Improbably, this is a love story in which Adam Fenwick-Symes, a destitute young writer, hungers for Nina Blount, daughter of an eccentric aristocrat. But at the same time, it is a satire that plays against the social whirl of a class doomed to extinction as certainly as the dodo. "

Mademoiselle Coco Chanel & The Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick will be my non-fiction indulgence.

"Certain lives are at once so exceptional, and yet so in step with their historical moments, that they illuminate cultural forces far beyond the scope of a single person. Such is the case with Coco Chanel, whose life offers one of the most fascinating tales of the twentieth century—throwing into dramatic relief an era of war, fashion, ardent nationalism, and earth-shaking change—here brilliantly treated, for the first time, with wide-ranging and incisive historical scrutiny.

 In Mademoiselle, Garelick delivers the most probing, well-researched, and insightful biography to date on this seemingly familiar but endlessly surprising figure—a work that is truly both a heady intellectual study and a literary page-turner."

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell will not only be my first book of 2015, but my first reading challenge of the year as well.

"When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature."
Christmas TRee QVB 2014

This post is part of It's Monday! What Are You Reading? meme at Book Journey.

What will you be reading over the Christmas/New Year break?


I hope to have time to pop by your blogs over the next two weeks as well, but in the meantime,

a Very Merry Christmas one and all
and may the New Year be full of good cheer & happiness.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Scrooged - the Movie

In preparation for rereading A Christmas Carol I thought I'd like to see a couple of movie adaptations as well. Somehow I've managed to reach my mid-40's without ever seeing one!

Last night we watch Scrooged (1988) starring Bill Murray.
Scrooged portrays a modern day Scrooge as a young, successful but ruthless TV executive.
Made in the "greed is good" 80's, many of the movie trailers started with "now more than ever, we need this story..."

But sadly everything about this movie is now dated - the hair! the high waisted jeans! the basic graphics and special effects!

Bill Murray was very OTT the whole way through the movie - obviously the director was unable to reign him in on this movie. And the movie sufffered for this excessive over-acting.
It may have been "side-splittingly" funny in 1988, but now it was barely amusing.

However the message of family, goodwill & charity that is A Christmas Carol still managed to shine though.

Today I started reading the book.

My Folio Society edition has lovely large font, thick paper and lots of illustrations. But I'd forgotten how quickly one can read this story.

In an attempt to honour the process a little more though, I've slowed my reading right down.

For now I will leave with Marley's chain-linked Ghost...

"It is required of every man," the Ghost returned, "that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world - oh, woe is me! - and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

I confess that I put off reading The Signature of All Things, even though a number of good friends recommended it highly to me.

The main reason was a snobbish attitude I developed towards Gilbert after my experience with Eat, Pray, Love. I simply couldn't read it. I thought the writing was awful & pedestrian & self-indulgent.

I was very surprised to hear that she wrote historical fiction, but didn't feel confident that her style would suit me even in one of my favourite genres.

But last week I read and adored My Ántonia. I was in historical fiction heaven and felt at a loss when I was finished. The Signature of All Things was the closest historical fiction book to hand when I was ready to start again.

And I fell into like a warm bath after a physically tiring day. It was blissful. I loved meeting a fictional Joseph Banks and seeing young Henry make his way in the world. I was fascinated by Alma and her story of growing up in Philadelphia.

There were so many lush details - botanical, personal, historical & cultural. I could barely put the book down.

I will rave about how good this book is to anyone who will listen, but I do so with one small reservation. The trouble is, I can't quite work out what that reservation is. Halfway through the story (about the time that Ambrose makes his appearance) something went a little off kilter. I still raced through, devouring the story, but suddenly I found myself doubting how much I was enjoying the book. A little bit of scepticism crept in, maybe even a little bit of cynicism?

Perhaps I became aware of the writer & felt a little bit manipulated at times?

Not enough to stop, but just enough to make me cautious. Just enough to hold me back from an OTT rave review!

The Signature of All Things is truly a glorious, epic, engrossing story.
It would make a wonderful holiday read or gift for lovers of historical fiction.

I'm glad I finally got over my snobbery - I suspect this book will change a lot people's minds about Elizabeth Gilbert.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

E is for Sumner Locke Elliott

Sumner Locke Elliott was born on the 17th October 1917 in Sydney and died on the 24th June 1991 in New York. 

Elliott’s parents were Helena Sumner Locke and the freelance journalist Henry Logan Elliott. 
His mother died of eclampsia one day after his birth. Elliott was raised by his aunts, who engaged in a fierce custody battle over him, which was later fictionalized in Elliott's autobiographical novel, Careful, He Might Hear You.  

Elliott wrote his first play when he was twelve & joined the Sydney Independent Theatre whilst still at school.

In 1942 Elliott was drafted into the Australian Army, but instead of being posted overseas, he worked as a clerk in Australia. He used these experiences as the inspiration for his controversial play, Rusty Bugles. The play toured throughout Australia in 1948-49 and achieved the notoriety of being closed down for obscenity by the Chief Secretary's Office.

Elliott moved to the United States in 1948. His first broadway play Buy Me Blue Ribbons, had a short run in 1951.

He continued to write live television dramas, writing more than 30 original plays and numerous adaptations for such shows as Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre, Studio One and Playhouse 90.

In 1955, he obtained United States citizenship and did not return to Australia until 1974. It was only in later life that Elliott openly declared his homosexuality by living with his lover Whitfield Cook in New Hampshire.

Elliott's best known novel, Careful, He Might Hear You, won the 1963 Miles Franklin Award and was turned into a film in 1983 starring Wendy Hughes, Robyn Nevin & Nicholas Gledhill.

He won the Patrick White Literary Award in 1977.


  • Careful, He Might Hear You (1963)
  • Some Doves and Pythons (1966)
  • Eden's Lost (1969)
  • The Man Who Got Away (1972)
  • Going (1975)
  • Water Under the Bridge (1977)
  • Rusty Bugles (1980)
  • Signs of Life (1981)
  • About Tilly Beamis (1985)
  • Waiting for Childhood (1987)
  • Fairyland (1990)

Short stories

  • Radio Days (1993)

For my author posts I'm trying to only highlight authors that I have read, but the letter E was one of the tricky ones!
I have not read any of Elliott's works, but I have seen the movie of Careful, He Might Hear You many years ago. The main thing I remember from it was how sad I felt for the little orphaned boy. I'm glad he grew up to be a successful writer even if he wasn't able to completely lay to rest all his childhood demons.

Sharon Clarke wrote the only biography about Elliott called Sumner Locke Elliott: Writing Life in 1996.

"I think autobiography happens automatically for me. Memory is the strongest power I have, it's my lifeline to the truth."

 This post is part of Alphabe-Thursday & Authors by Alphabet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mending Wall by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, 
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, 
And spills the upper boulders in the sun; 
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. 
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone, 
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, 
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean, 
No one has seen them made or heard them made, 
But at spring mending-time we find them there. 
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; 
And on a day we meet to walk the line 
And set the wall between us once again. 
We keep the wall between us as we go. 
To each the boulders that have fallen to each. 
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls 
We have to use a spell to make them balance: 
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!' 
We wear our fingers rough with handling them. 
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game, 
One on a side. It comes to little more: 
There where it is we do not need the wall: 
He is all pine and I am apple orchard. 
My apple trees will never get across 
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. 
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.' 
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder 
If I could put a notion in his head: 
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it 
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows. 
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know 
What I was walling in or walling out, 
And to whom I was like to give offense. 
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, 
That wants it down.' I could say ‘Elves’ to him, 
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather 
He said it for himself. I see him there 
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top 
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed. 
He moves in darkness as it seems to me, 
Not of woods only and the shade of trees. 
He will not go behind his father’s saying, 
And he likes having thought of it so well 
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.' 
Mending Wall by Ken Fiery 2007
This is a poem that embraces boundaries - the internal and external forces that keep us apart. 
Can we see the boundaries as the rules and laws of our society? Is the act of wall mending an act of justice? 

The world is made up of two types of people - wall builders and wall breakers?

Is mending the wall a creative endeavour?

But what is Frost 'discovering' in Mending Wall?

Is he discovering or rediscovering the mores and traditions of his society?
Is the 'discovery' the journey he takes with his neighbour each year to mend the wall? The importance of connection & shared endeavour?
Perhaps he is discovering what his relationship is to his fellow man (the neighbour)? Breaking down the barriers?
What does he discover about the mysterious wall breakers? 

What do you think?
What have you discovered by reading Mending Wall?

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's Monday!

It's Monday!

Which means that it's time for my weekly roundup of all things books.

Last week I finished My Ántonia for Willa Cather reading week. Thank you Ali, your reading week was a fabulous introduction into Cather's world. I'll be back for more!

I spent Sunday afternoon summarising my 2014 reading challenges & signing up for four more in 2015 (click on 2015 badge in left sidebar).

After some prompting, I started an easy, no fuss, low-key Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol readalong (click on badge in left sidebar to join in).

I found a North and South Readalong hosted by Suey et al.
Starting in January this will help me get my 2015 reading challenges off to a flying start!

It has been a busy week with lots going on at work and at home. My head & heart have been somewhat is lovely that I have my blog and my books to retreat into to find solace and calm during times like this.
And an extremely patient, understanding Mr Books who gives me loving space!

What will I be reading this week?

This week I will be finishing off The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.

 "Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who — born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution — bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert's wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers."

After finishing My Ántonia on Thursday evening I was feeling at a bit of an historical fiction loose end. I picked up Signature during my lunch break at work on Friday...and instantly fell into the world of botany created by Gilbert.
I love it when a free-range choice turns out so well :-)

I will also start A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens this week.

"Cruel miser Ebeneezer Scrooge has never met a shilling he doesn’t like...and hardly a man he does. And he hates Christmas most of all. When Scrooge is visited by his old partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, he learns eternal lessons of charity, kindness, and goodwill. Experience a true Victorian Christmas!"

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2015 - Challenges - Will I? Or Won't I?

I may have over-commited myself when planning my 2014 reading challenges!

I very nearly threw my hands up in despair last week when I started spotting 2015 challenges. I was adamant - NO! Not again.

But then I spotted Behold the Stars British Reading Challenge & Adam's TBR Challenge...and I started wondering....

Did I really do so badly with my 2014 challenges?
And even if I did, does it matter?

Thanks to all those challenges I met some fabulous new bloggers & read lots of great reviews for books I'd like to read one day.

Only one way to find....

To summarise:

My ability to keep my challenge page up to date & link appropriate reviews fell down about August. But with a bit of double-checking and cross-referencing I discovered...

Eclectic Reader Challenge - not as eclectic as I thought I was.
The bulk of my reading in 2014 was either 'award-winning', 'cosy-crime' or 'published this year'. I only read some Gothic books thanks to the Angela Carter Reading Week in June.

Around the World Challenge - success!
I planned to read 4 countries, but managed to read 8 (Australia, England, USA, Japan, New Zealand, Netherlands, France, India - & half a Russian!) Which makes me a 'casual tourist'.

Adam's TBR Challenge - I only read 4 of my nominated TBR list, although I actually read somewhere between 12-15 books from off my TBR pile anyway!

What's in a Name? Of the 5 categories I only fulfilled one. Although I fulfilled that one, over and over and over again! Who knew that I enjoyed reading books with people's first names in them so much?

Back to the Classics - of the 6 categories - I read more than one book from 5 of them. Even though I read a few war books this year, they were not classics alas.

History Reading Challenge - thanks to Aus-Reading Month & Non-Fiction November I finally finished a book on the Eureka Stockade to fulfill one read in this challenge.

Chunkster Reading Challenge - I read at least 4 chunksters this year - yay me!

Michael's Literary Exploration Challenge - I failed miserably at maintaining a goodreads page, but I did read out of 23 of the 36 categories in the Insane Challenge.

New Year's Resolution Reading Challenge - X

Books on France - big tick - at least 7 books completed.

Foodies Challenge - one book completed - review still to come.

Colour Coded Reading Challenge - 2 books

The Classics Club - 11 more books ticked off my list.

Lessons learnt?

I read classics, I read contemporary. I read historical fiction & non-fiction. I read translations and love books set in other countries. I love joining in readalongs & reading weeks. I read a LOT of Australian books.

So I guess that means I'm in!
In for another year of reading challenges, readalongs and reading weeks - although tailored towards my preferred reading genres and styles.

Behold the Stars: Reading England Challenge

Cambridgeshire - Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf (20th century)

Cheshire - Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cornwall - Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (reread) & Basil by Wilkie Collins (person's name)

Cumbra - Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (woman author)

Devon - The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (novella)

Gloucestershire - Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee (non-fiction)

Hampshire - Watership Down by Richard Adams (reread) (children's)

Kent - Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

Lancashire - Mary Barton (19th century) and North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell (chunkster)

London - Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, The Diary of a Nobody by George & Wheedon Grossmith (humorous),  Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, Night and Day by Virginia Woolf & The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

All of these books are currently (languishing) on my shelves (or in the piles hidden behind my bedroom mirror!) Most of them are also on my Classics Club list.

The list (currently) consists of 16 books which means that I can also officially join in Adam's TBR Pile Challenge of 12 books from my TBR pile.

Karen's Back to the Classics is also (mostly) covered by the books above (notes in blue).
For the rest - a forgotten classic is Stoner by John Williams, a translation is The Dream by Emile Zola & a play is Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler (Australian).

On my left sidebar Plethora of Books has not only conceived a project after my own heart, but she has also designed the most exquisite badge ever.
I re-read at least one Austen every year, so it will be a pleasure to join in as time permits with this one.

I also plan to join the Australian Women Writers Challenge when they post their 2015 sign up as my reading & reviewing this year proved to be predominately Australian women writers.

Are you joining in any reading challenges in 2015?

Friday, December 12, 2014

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

I read My Ántonia as part of Heavenali's Willa Cather Reading week.
It was my first Cather - the first of many, I now realise!

Reading My Ántonia was like falling into a lovely warm, cosy doona. It was comforting, it was some how familar, like a dear, old friend & it was generous, big-hearted & welcoming....just like Ántonia herself.

As Jim Burden remembers his childhood and his friendship with the slightly older 'Tony', Nebraska, farm life and that particular time in American history become infused with the sweet glow of nostalgia. Cather captures the rhythms & pace of small time life perfectly - it's comforts and its ennuis.

As many of you will know, I have also been reading 6 poems by Robert Frost in honour of my stepson's HSC course.

Images of apple picking, harvesting, be-dewed fields & woods filled with snow have been haunting my dreams. Cather's depictions of Nebraskan prairie life merged with these fleeting images to create a mood of deep belonging & knowing.

Like Frost, Cather's characters are shaped by their environments. The wide, open, lonely prairies, prone to extremes of weather, test not only character but become apart of the romantic, hard-working world-view that both Ántonia and Jim develop. Ántonia is also heavily influenced by her memories of her youth in Bohemia when her father was happy.

Ántonia believes the best of people, takes pride in her background & embraces change and catastrophe with a  sense of stoicism & adventureness. 

Ántonia's story is told entirely from Jim's point of view, so there are some sections that fail to satisfy. Even as we enjoy seeing Jim come of age, we soon realise that we do so at the risk of losing sight of Ántonia. There are whole slabs of her life we can only see through Jim's sentimental eyes.

I'm an historical fiction fanatic...and when it is written as beautifully and evocatively as this is, then I will rave 'til the cows come home!

As a sidenote, I found the descriptions of the (native) red grass plains beautiful - in the summer reflecting & waving the sunset or in the winter bowed down by snow. As time passed and more land was ploughed under for farming, one could foresee the doomed practices that helped to create the dust bowl disaster of the 1930's (unknown to Cather at the time, as she published this in 1918).

"As far as we could see, the miles of copper-red grass were drenched in sunlight that was stronger and fiercer than at any other time of day....The whole prairie was like the bush that burned with fire but was not consumed."

"Big white flakes were whirling over everything and disappearing in the red grass."

"The old pasture land was now being broken up into wheatfields and cornfields, the red grass was disappearing, and the whole face of the country was changing."

"I took a long walk north of the town, out into the pastures where the land was so rough that it had never been ploughed up, and the long red grass of early times still grew shaggy over the draws and hillocks. Out there I felt at home again."
My Drop Caps edition of My Ántonia was illustrated with lovely line drawings by W. T. Benda

Thursday, December 11, 2014

D is for Robert Dessaix

Robert Dessaix was born in Sydney on 17th February 1944.
He was soon adopted & given the name Robert Jones. 

Young Robert was educated at North Sydney Boys High School and the Australian National University. He then studied at Moscow State University during the early 1970s, and taught Russian Studies at the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales from 1972 to 1984.

After attaining his PhD, he changed his named back to his biological name, Robert Dessaix.

From 1985 to 1995 Dessaix presented the ABC program Books and Writing - which is where I first came across him.

I then read (& loved) Night Letters when it came out.
I devoured his story in Secrets (as well as Modjeska’s & Lohrey’s – oh, especially Lohrey’s one on singing – that was magic & hit just the right chord in my life at the time! Pun intended.)

I also read (And So Forth) when it came out. I found his life story fascinating. I also felt a deep personal response to his intellectualism at a time when I was feeling intellectually isolated .

Every time a new book came out, I thought, I must read that - that sounds like my kind of fascinating - even the Russian one (which seemed to put some people off). But something always got in the way.

As I'm writing this post, I'm again reminded of how much I learnt from his earlier stories and non-fiction & how I felt so connected to what he had to say about life & living. I wonder anew at why I haven't read absolutely everything he ever wrote!

WH Chong on talks about his encounter with Dessaix live, that reflects how I feel about his writing...

"The other night at the Wheeler Centre, where I seemed to have camped out lately, we saw the celebrated writer Robert Dessaix take the stage for one of his brilliantly sly and penetrating performances. 
By penetrating I mean how he seems to cut into the moment — loosing the sap? the blood? — and make it tremendously vivid, so that we all felt very awake and present. 
And when I say performance, he is performing the persona he’s been refining for a long time — ‘Robert Dessaix’ is a talker, full of dramatic and witty intonations, dry and disconcertingly direct. Bluntness somehow fused with charm. And that low voice with its rainbow glimmerings of fugitive accents."


Robert Dessaix 1998 by Robert Hannaford
(my photo from the National Potrait Gallery earlier in the year).

  • Night Letters: A Journey Through Switzerland and Italy Edited and Annotated by Igor Miazmov (1996)
  • Secrets (with Drusilla Modjeska and Amanda Lohrey, 1997)
  • Corfu (2001)


  • A Mother's Disgrace (1994)
  • Arabesques : A Tale of Double Lives (2008)


  • (And So Forth) (1998)
  • Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev (2004)
  • As I Was Saying: a Collection of Musings (2012)
  • What Days Are For (2014)


  • Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing: An Anthology (1993)
  • Picador New Writing (1993)
  • Speaking Their Minds: Intellectuals and the Public Culture in Australia (1998)
  • The Best Australian Essays 2004 (2004)
  • The Best Australian Essays 2005 (2005)

 “...'undertow'. It describes (...) how underneath our own everyday lives - the shopping and squabbles and weeding and trips to the vet - there's a sense of being dragged slowly off, not against our will but regardless of it. And fighting the undertow, as children are quick to learn, is not usually the best way of getting back to the beach. Floating along with it, on the other hand, can be fatal.

It's really the struggle, the argument with oneself, that interests..
  Robert Dessaix, Picador New Writing 

Dessaix now lives in Tasmania with his long time partner (& fellow author) Peter Timms. 
I found this lovely article in last month's Mercury featuring Robert & his latest book, What Days Are For

I hope (plan!) to read more of Dessaix's work sooner rather than later. This post has reminded of a long lost friend that I want to get back in touch with again.

This post is part of Alphabe-Thursday & Authors by Alphabet.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Christmas Carol Readalong

I've succumbed.

I wasn't going to commit to anything else between now and Christmas. But I really wanted to reread Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol this I've decided to host the most low-key, easy, no-fuss readalong ever.

The hardest part has been making the badge...and I've just realised I forgot to add my blog addresss to it - do'h!

If you'd like to join me in reading or rereading A Christmas Carol simply say 'hi' in the comments below & spread the word.

Copy my badge, post on twitter or Instagram using #achristmascarol, share on facebook, goodreads or your own blogs. As much or as little as you like.

During the readalong stop by and let us know how you're progressing.
Tweet your favourite quotes, show us a picture of your particular edition, tell us how many times you've read A Christmas Carol over the years.
Why do you love it so much?
Which movie version do you prefer?
Have you seen a stage show or pantomine of A Christmas Carol?

Are you a Bah! Humbug! at Christmas or a "God bless us one and all!" type?

Maybe you'd like to tell us about your best (or worst) Christmas past.
What do you plan to do for your Christmas Present?
Tell us your hopes for the Christmas Yet To Come.

Or simply readalong knowing that folks all around the world are experiencing the same wonderful story at the same time as you!

I will be reading my lovely 2007 (second reprint) Folio Society edition.

Although I first read A Christmas Carol sometime in my 20's, I have not read this particular edition yet. The illustrations & colour plates by Foreman look delightful.

I'm looking forward to diving back into Dickensian London and finding the spirit (and/or ghost) of Christmas.

I hope you can join me in this adventure.

PS I have left Mr Linky open until New Year's Eve to give everyone plenty of time to write reviews over the festive season.

Merry Christmas one and all!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost

Robert Frost is on the 2015 HSC poetry list.
My eldest stepson is studying 6 of his poems (rather reluctantly) with his class.
The major theme they're exploring is discovery (or self-discovery).
Robert Frost was born 26th March 1874 and died 1963. 
He won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry four times (1924, 1931, 1937 & 1943). 
He was a special guest at JFK's inauguration, where he wrote a poem especially for the occasion.

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep. 
More self-discovery from Robert Frost!
Is his ladder the bridge to the heavens? Is he questioning his faith? Spiritual discovery?
Is it about aging & resting? Growing old & weary? 
Autumn to winter - middle age to old age? With a renewal or regrowth on the way?
Does he realise he's aging/dying? Looking back on his life - with regrets? or disappointment?
Apples (biblical) - loss of innocence?
Perhaps he is searching for wisdom - picking the fruit of knowledge? Inner discovery?
Or harvesting - storing away the knowledge he has already accumulated? Pondering the choices of his youth?
What does it mean that he is dreaming or in that dream-like, almost asleep stage? 
Is this his sub-conscious speaking? His natural state?

Monday, December 8, 2014

It's Monday!

Last week ended up being a good reading & blogging week.

I completed two fiction books & began my Robert Frost discovery tour (see reviews below).

I updated my much neglected Goodreads page.
I found the #bookadayuk challenge on twitter.
I finished my Christmas shopping.
And we caught up on our backlog of Walking Dead episodes (is no-one safe?!)

I have also spent every evening storm watching from our upstairs verandah!

Sydney has been enjoying (?) a run of dramatic, spectacular summer storms complete with lightning, thunder, wild wind, lashing rain and occasionally hail.

This week's reading list still contains Adam Spencer's Big Book of Numbers (I'm now up to the number 36). And I plan to look at two more Robert Frost poems.

I've also joined in Ali's Willa Cather Reading Week - read Ali's start up post here.

I will be reading Cather's 1918 novel My Ántonia.
My edition is one of the lovely 2012 Drop Cap hardbacks with cover designs by Jessica Hische.

I started it last night with much anticipation. I suspect I will be searching out her other books asap!

The story of Ántonia Shimerda is told by one of her friends from childhood, Jim Burden, an orphaned boy from Virginia. Though he leaves the prairie, Jim never forgets the Bohemian girl who so profoundly influenced his life. 

An immigrant child of immigrant parents, Ántonia's girlhood is spent working to help her parents wrest a living from the untamed land. 

Though in later years she suffers betrayal and desertion, through all the hardships of her life she preserves a valor of spirit that no hardship can daunt or break. 

When Jim Burden sees her again after many years, he finds her "a rich mine of life", a figure who has turned adversity into a particular kind of triumph in the true spirit of the pioneer.
I've also started Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things.

I finished last week in need of some 'balm'. So far it's a fairly gut-wrenching, emotional experience -  a book to be read slowly, piece by piece, with time to absorb the emotional impact of each story.

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.
Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond.  Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.

I would also love to reread A Christmas Carol before Christmas and was wondering if anyone out there in blog-land would like to join in a readalong with me....or point me in the direction of someone hosting such a readalong?

Later: My low-key, no fuss readalong post is here.

I often find it too surreal to read traditional white Christmas style books during our hot, sultry, summery Christmases. But with all the dramatic, weird storms this past week, I've felt a little closer to a white Christmas (hail is white, right?!) than usual.

Living with two teen boys who bah-humbug* around the house, Scrooge has naturally been on my mind!
* Translator's notes - 'bah humbug' is a Victorian phrase of indifference. Now replaced by 'meh'!

To find out what other bloggers have been up to with their reading week, check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

What will you be reading this week?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower

Oh me, oh my!

What a seductive, chilling, creepy, psychological family drama this is.

Set in Sydney during the 1930's and 40's, The Watch Tower follows the young lives of Laura & Clare.
Orphaned when first their father dies. Then abandoned by their incredibly selfish, self-absorbed, negligent mother who leaves them to go off & do her own thing.
But not before she wrecks havoc on her children's emotional lives.

Laura is left always trying to make amends and be the responsible, reliable one. Clare just wants to disappear within herself and avoid all relationships to keep from getting hurt & being disappointed.

Two such lonely, unloved, isolated young women were almost fated to be taken advantage of again.

Enter stage left - Felix.

Laura's enigmatic, much older boss.
Felix - who promises to marry Laura and look after Clare when their mother takes off.

Nowadays we are all conversant with psychological & emotional abuse; we know about alcoholics, personality disorders and control freaks. It is also quite likely that Felix had frustrated homosexual tendencies.

Whatever the disorder or syndrome or illness, Felix slowly, cruelly wears the two sisters down. His hostility, deceits, self-justifications, denials & irrational caprices are as relentless as they are predictable.

Laura is too embedded into this way of life to see a way out, but Clare finds ways to fight back.

It is Clare that provides the hope in this desperate story.

First published in 1966, Harrower writes an engrossing, enraging story.
Firmly rooted in the quiet, leafy Lower North Shore suburbs of Sydney, Harrower reveals what goes on behind (some) closed doors.

I can't wait to dive into Harrower's other books - Down in the City, The Long Prospect, The Catherine Wheel & In Certain Circles.

Highly recommended for lovers of deftly written character studies.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Tufts of Flowers by Robert Frost

Robert Frost is on the 2015 HSC poetry list.
My eldest stepson is studying 6 of his poems (rather reluctantly) with his class.
The major theme they're exploring is discovery or self-discovery.

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the leveled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been—alone,

“As all must be,” I said within my heart,
“Whether they work together or apart.”

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one though of ours to him,
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

“Men work together,” I told him from the heart,
“Whether they work together or apart.”

This is also a poem about self-discovery - the connection between people through time & place, a search for meaning in our modern world through comparison with an older time gone by. We experience solitude & loneliness - eventually working our way to connection & fellowship.

Nature, by its very indifference to human beings, allows us to gain our own knowledge & insight - we work it out by ourselves, as nature won't provide the answers for us.

Frost said that a poem is
never a put-up job.... It begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a loneliness. 
It is never a thought to begin with. 
It is at its best when it is a tantalizing vagueness.”

What do you think?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf

Nine Open Arms is set in a fictional town based on the little town of Sittard, in the Netherlands, where the author grew up.

Originally titled Negen Open Armen & published in 2004, it has now been beautifully translated into English by Dutch-born, Australian-based translator Johannes (John) Antonius Maria Nieuwenhuizen.

In his translator notes, Nieuwenhuizen said,

"Lindelauf uses some colourful words in colloquial Limburgish to bring the characters, the place and the times to life. 
I have kept some of these words in the English translation because they add to the flavour and liveliness of the story."

There is much to love about this story, & the Limburgish words & local traditions are simply part of the appeal (iepekriet, kendj, kwatsj, leeveke, miljaar, sjiethoes, sjlamm & ulezeik to name a few! The only problem being - I had absolutely no idea how to pronounce any of them!)

Nine Open Arms is a charming family mystery set prior to WWII. Eleven year old Fing and her extended family are quirky, warm-hearted folks struggling to make ends meet and cope with the recent death of their mother.

Moving to a new (old) house is an unsettling experience for all of them. Living next to a cemetary, finding odd pieces of furniture in the cellar & mysteriously losing food doesn't help any of them to find "the opposite of worry". Something is not quite right.

As the "tragical tragedies" unfold, Fing & her family learn that love & honesty are the keys to not only solving the mysteries, but in allowing everyone to enjoy "the scent of time to come."

Nine Open Arms is funny, heart-warming and slightly spooky. 
A wonderfully engaging read for mature 10+ readers, but with so much depth of character & sense of a story well-told, this book could be enjoyed by anyone of any age.