Friday, 22 May 2015

Ru by Kim Thuy

I love it when I discover a new author that simply bowls me over with the beautiful simplicity of her story. Reading Thuy's (pronounced twee) autobiographical novel, Ru has been a magical, moving experience.
"I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chain of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns."
Like Thuy, and her protagonist, An Tinh, I was born in the Year of the Monkey, 1968, but our two stories could not be further apart. Yet last night we shared a chat and a laugh and compared comfort foods (Thuy - congee; me - vegemite on toast).

Thuy spent the first ten years of her life in Saigon; most of that time was taken up with post war reconstruction and re-education programs. Her family then fled Vietnam via boat and eventually ended up in a Malaysian refugee camp. Some time later they emigrated to Quebec, Canada.

There is nothing ordinary or usual about this story and there is nothing usual or ordinary about Thuy's writing - it's a mixture of the poetic, the graphic and the sublime.
Thuy reminds us all to see and feel the love in all the different and subtle ways that people show it to us.

I had the pleasure of meeting Thuy twice during the week at the Writer's Festival in Sydney. She confirmed that her books are such a mix of fact and fiction that it's almost impossible to separate the two out.

Her books begin as "fat documents that get simmered down" into word precise vignettes. I loved the image she painted of walking "around the words to see them from every angle" before selecting them or deleting them from each draft. For me, the only flaw with this style of writing is that the vignettes only just hung together and they didn't quite come to a satisfactory end. But Ru was all about the journey, not the destination. It's the writing, the emotions and the memories that stay with you for days afterwards.

I can't wait to get into Thuy's latest novel, Man, also written in French and translated by Sheila Fischman.

Ru has been won several awards since its 2009 publication -

WINNER 2015 - Canada Reads
WINNER 2011 – Grand prix littéraire Archambault
WINNER 2011 – Mondello Prize for Multiculturalism
WINNER 2010 – Prix du Grand Public Salon du livre––Essai/Livre pratique
WINNER 2010 – Governor General’s Award for Fiction (French-language)
WINNER 2010 – Grand Prix RTL-Lire at the Salon du livre de Paris
Longlisted 2013 – Man Asian Literary Prize
Longlisted 2014 – International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Shortlist 2012 - Scotiabank Giller Prize
Shortlist 2012 – Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation

If you loved Like Water For Chocolate and Perfume, I think you will also love Ru.

Monday, 18 May 2015

It's Monday!

Another week has gone by in a blur of family, work and life stuff. With a little reading and blogging time squeezed into the sides.

I'm loving my (re)readalong of Gone With the Wind with Corinne. The first discussion post was a lively, loving chat about Scarlett, slavery and Mitchell's intentions.

However Wharton Review month has been hijacked by the arrival of a new book.

I had planned on rereading The Age of Innocence, but this turned up instead....
Shedding the constraints that existed for women in turn-of-the-century America, Edith Wharton set out in the newly invented "motor-car" to explore the cities and countryside of France.
Originally published in 1908, A Motor-Flight Through France is considered by many to be the very best of Wharton’s outstanding travel writings. 
While Wharton’s novels are darkly funny and deliciously catty, and her short stories are populated by adulterers, murderers, and artists, A Motor-Flight Through France captures all of the riches and charm of France during the Belle Époque in gorgeous, romantic prose. Like many Americans, Wharton was utterly beguiled by France at the dawn of the twentieth century, and in this volume her brilliant sketches of "l’Hexagone" provide an enchanting and indelible portrait of the land during this era.
But Wharton’s travelogue is as much about the thrill of travel as it is about place. With the automobile in its infancy, Wharton was experiencing the countryside as few people ever had, liberated from the ugliness of train yards and the constraints of passage by rail. “The motor-car has restored the romance of travel,” she wrote, and readers of this wonderful book will be grateful to experience it through her eyes
Only two chapters in, but so far it is an utter delight.

Last week I attended a work function at Allen and Unwin. I came home with a lovely bag of goodies, including the ARC's photographed below.

I'm very excited about the new Kundera due out next month and I can't wait to dip into Charlotte Wood's October new release.

Mr Books has already snaffled Patrick DeWitt's Under Major Domo Minor and is loving it.

This week is the beginning of the Sydney Writer's Festival. I've booked into four events so far and I'm starting to get excited.

But for now it's time for my Monday Shout-out!

This is my weekly chance to share with you some of my favourite reviews:

For one of the most succinct reviews ever, check out Books are my Favourite and Best's review of The Paris Wife.

Nancy @ipsofactodotme has made me want to reread What I Talk About When I Talk About Running with this review.

Melinda @West Metro Mommy has also inspired me to try Roxanne Gay's Bad Feminist here.

This post is part of Sheila's It's Monday and Mailbox Monday.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey

Ahhhhh Aaron - I do love your quirky sense of humour and your wicked way with rhymes.

Thelma the Unicorn is the age old tale of the search for fame and fortune.

Thelma the pony finds life in the paddock rather dull and boring, she wishes that she was special...she wishes that she could be a unicorn!

When her wish comes true, it seems like her future will be one amazing, glamorous day after another.

But will it?

To find out what happens to Thelma, check out Blabey's animated retelling of his story below.

You'll love it, I'm sure! Along with all the pink paint and glitter.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Robertson

I'm partial to Robertson's picture books. I enjoy her visual humour and her eye for quirky details.

A Tale of Two Beasts begins with a quote from Mark Twain,

"There are two sides to every story, and then there is the truth."

We then set off into the deep, dark woods with a Little Red Riding Hood style character returning to her Grandma's house. But on the way she spies a strange little creature stuck in a tree. She rescues it and takes it home as a pet.

But the pet runs away...then returns on the last page...but why?

Except this is not the last page.

The next section follows a happy little creature hanging around in his favourite tree, singing and minding his own business when this terrible beast kidnaps him and forces him into captivity!

He plans his escape and is eventually successful. But out in the deep, dark woods it has turned cold and the little creature decides to sneak back to steal the warm clothes the terrible beast had made for him.

Their final confrontation helps them both appreciate each other for who they are as they learn to become friends.

A great way to introduce differing points of view to young children.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Reckoning by Edith Wharton

I can't believe it's 20 years already since Penguin put out their last batch of special little classic books.

Back then it was 60 Penguin classic books (with black spines) and 60 Penguins (with an orange spine). I loved them.

I quickly collected my own smaller hand-picked favourites from the two sets. I also discovered many new favourite authors as the bite-sized excerpts at a fabulous price encouraged me to try the great unknown.

Sadly, these little gems did not survive my last move. I gave them to a friend who I knew would love and adore them too.

Earlier this year I was delighted (and slightly dismayed) to learn that Penguin were about to celebrate their 80th anniversary (where did that last 20 years go?) by releasing 80 Little Black Classics.

"Woman at the Window" (1822) by Friedrich
The cute little bite-sized books have lured me in once again.

And once again, I have hand-picked a few from my favourite authors (that I don't already have) as well as selecting a few authors that I've been meaning to try for a long time. One of my delights has been two new (to me) short stories by Edith Wharton - The Reckoning (1902) and Mrs Manstey's View (1891).

Two little gems for the price of one inside Little Black Classic No. 48:
From the great writer of turn-of-the-century New York, two devastating portraits of lonely widowhood and an unconventional marriage.
By the by, my personal preference to describe the end of one century and the beginning of the new is the lovely French phrase fin de siécle. It sounds so much more glamorous, exotic and, well, French! And also seems more in keeping with Edith Wharton's proclivities.

Mrs Manstey is a lonely, almost house-bound elderly widow. Her main joy is the view from her window. She watches every tree and shrub for changes in the season and she knows the inhabitants of every backyard. When her view is threatened by a neighbour's renovation, her response is unexpected.

The Reckoning is a curious tale of a younger married couple. They advocate for the rights of couples no longer in love to have no-fault divorces.
This is, in fact, her second marriage and these radical new ideas allowed her to leave her first husband with very few qualms.

But as time has gone by, she finds that she no longer embraces these ideas. She is deeply in love with her new husband, feels that they are perfectly suited to each other and that supporting such radical ideas is no longer something that reflects their love.

Both stories are lovely examples of Wharton's attitude towards women's rights and society life in New York.

Wharton personally struggled with the narrow confines of a married women's role in American society, especially that of an intelligent women who wrote. She felt so strongly about this, she eventually moved to Europe permanently.

Most of her short stories and novels highlight and compare life for women in Europe versus America.
Sadly, America fell short, in her eyes every time. However, this didn't stop her from feeling nostalgic about certain aspects of American society or from seeing the faults of some European behaviours.

Wharton's description in MMV of the New York seasons was written with genuine affection:

In the very enclosure did a magnolia open its hard white flowers against the watery blue of April? And was there not, a little way down the line, a fence foamed over every May by lilac waves of wisteria? Farther still, a horse-chestnut lifted its candelabra of buff and pink blossoms above broad fans of foliage; while in the opposite yard June was sweet with the breath of a neglected syringa....
I have always loved Wharton's writing - I hope you are enjoying your time with Wharton this month too.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

How Big is Too Small by Jane Godwin and Andrew Joyner

Older brothers can be so mean to their younger siblings.

Poor Sam in How Big is Too Small, is constantly excluded from his older brothers 'big' games with his 'bigger' friends. "You're too small," they constantly remind him.

Playing on his own in his bedroom, Sam has time to reflect and compare....

His big brother is actually smaller than their dad, "next to my brother is small."

And that ant on the floor is smaller still, yet "an ant is the right size for ants, I suppose."

Sam moves on to compare raindrops and cloud, seeds and trees, buildings and cities...until his big brother interrupts him. Their ball is stuck on the roof and the need someone smaller to scale the trellis.

Godwin could have ended the story there with the usual 'small has its uses too' theme, but she takes her ideas one step further.
On the roof, Sam not only meets a new friend who accepts him for the size he is now, but when they look down at the big brother on the ground, their perspective makes him look small now.

I loved Godwin's rhyming text. It's a pleasure to read out aloud.
Only one word felt out of place because it suddenly made the rhyme obvious and a bit clunky. But maybe, it's just me being picky....

Joyner's illustrations skillfully enhance all Godwin's comparisons and perspectives.
They honour the introspective child who takes notice of the world around him. Close inspection also reveals extra clues to the observant reader.

I predict a 2016 CBCA shortlist nomination for this thoughtful, charming picture book.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Pig the Pug and Pig the Fibber by Aaron Blabey

In the past I have admired Blabey's quirky, poignant stories about friendship. But in the last year, he has published a run of quirky, funny morality tales that have have delighted younger readers whilst shocking the slightly older ones!

Pig the Pug is not a very nice dog.
He refuses to share his pile of toys with poor sausage dog Trevor. He makes it worse by being spiteful as well as gloating about his selfishness gleefully.

Blabey uses lots of fun rhymes to highlight Pig's greed which you can see and hear for yourself in the youtube link below.  

You'll be pleased to know that Pig does get his comeuppance although it did make the parents sitting in on my reading group gasp & laugh nervously in shock.


Pig the Pug has been nominated for this year's CBCA shortlist.

Blabey has now followed up his success with Pig by bringing us Pig the Fibber.

My hope for this book was that poor old Trevor would develop some gumption and stand up to Pig, but....

Pig is back...bigger, badder and meaner than ever! This time he is lying and blaming poor Trevor for all his bad behaviour (including his old vice of greediness).
He would often tell lies
just to get his own way.
And poor old Trevor just puts up with it. He desperately wants Pig to like him and be his friend, but how long can he put up with Pig's obnoxious, bullying ways?

Obviously a little bit longer, because although Pig does, once again, get his rather shocking and painful comeuppance, Trevor, once again, fawns over the briefly subdued and incapacitated Pig! Nothing has changed.
We, the reader have learnt the lesson meant for Pig....but has he?

I fear not!

Monday, 11 May 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Monday, Monday - what will I be reading this week?

Hopefully more than last week!

I've been in a bit of a mood lately (third book down might explain why!) so I only managed to complete one book last week *sigh*.

I've also been very lax about checking in on my favourite blogs (sorry! I hope to get on top of things again soon).

But I did read a few of fabulous Zola posts from fellow Zoladdiction particpants:

O @Behold the Stars wrote a post that listed all the characters to be found in the Rougon-Macquart series with a helpful timeline.
Ruth @A Great Book Study has convinced me to try Virginia Woolf again with her review on The Voyage Out.
And Ali @Heavenali has helped bump My Beautiful Friend higher up my TBR pile with this lovely review.

But for now I am focused on finishing my readalong books - more Wharton's and Gone With the Wind.

The Reckoning (Little Black Classic #48) by Edith Wharton
'If marriage was the slow life-long acquittal of a debt contracted in ignorance, then marriage was a crime against human nature.'

Two moving stories of love, loss, desire and divorce, from one of the great chroniclers of nineteenth-century New York life

Roman Fever by Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, in 1921, for her classic novel The Age of Innocence. She was also a remarkable short story writer, publishing more than seventy-two stories in ten volumes during her lifetime.
The best of her short fiction is collected here in Roman Fever and Other Stories. Her subjects range from erotic love and illegitimacy in "Roman Fever," to a ghost story with a wry twist in "The Angel at the Grave," to the aftermath of divorce explored in three very different and intriguing stories, "Souls Belated," "Autres Temps..." and "The Last Asset," Wharton emerges as a superb satirist "skilled in dissecting the elements of emotional subtleties, moral ambiguities, and the implications of social constrictions," as Cynthia Griffin Wolff writes in her introduction.
Roman Fever & Other Stories is a surprisingly contemporary volume of stories by one of our most enduring writers.

You're Still Hot to Me by Jean Kittson
A fact-filled conversation starter on menopause by comedian and health campaigner Jean Kittson.

When Jean Kittson hit menopause, she was amazed at what she didn't know. Given that 1.5 million Australian women are menopausal at any one time, why, she wondered, was menopause so little discussed and then only in hushed tones?

So Jean set out to write the sort of book she felt she needed to read: 'An easy-to-read book full of useful information that didn't make you want to put on an old chenille dressing-gown and a pair of comfortable slippers and throw yourself under a marching band.'
You're Still Hot to Me is a chatty - sometimes robust - conversation between women and with some of Australia's top experts. Discover how to recognise symptoms (would you like hot flushes with that chocolate?), get the medical attention you deserve, and the lowdown on which treatments really work. You will learn about combining menopause with work, sex and parenting, and how to emerge at the other end still talking to those you love.

Candid and frequently hilarious, this is your starter kit on how to cheerfully embrace and confidently manage this momentous time of life
I'm also hoping to read and review a few more of this year's CBCA shortlist books including a few picture books and...

Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia by Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren
In this refreshing and fascinating collection, twelve Muslim-Australians - some well known, some not - reveal their candid, funny and touching stories of growing up with a dual identity.

Muslim people in Australia come from over seventy countries and represent a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences. Yet we are constantly bombarded by media stories feeding one negative stereotype. What is it really like to grow up Muslim in Australia? In this book, famous and not-so-famous Muslim-Australians tell their stories in their own voices.

The beard, the hijab, the migrant - these are all familiar images associated with Muslim people. But delve deeper and there are many other stories: the young female boxer entering the ring for her first professional bout; a ten-year-old boy who renounces religion; a young woman struggling to reconcile her sexual identity with her faith. These honest and heartfelt stories will resonate with all readers, providing different snapshots of Muslim life in Australia, dispelling myths and stereotypes, and above all celebrating diversity, achievement, courage and determination.

'Coming of Age is the kind of book that will change how readers look at the world... Coloured with many shades of humour, warmth, sadness, anger, determination and honesty, it will resonate with readers from all backgrounds and beliefs
What will you be reading this week?
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Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Great World by David Malouf

Rereading a book after 18 yrs is a very interesting experience. It's almost like reading it again for the first time.

This has certainly been the case for me and The Great World.

Thanks to the fact that I write my name, date and place of purchase on the inside cover of all my books I know roughly when I read it. The date inside my copy of The Great World is 22nd Dec 1997, Randwick.

That was back in my teaching days. My sister lived in Coogee for a few years. Every school holidays during those years I would plan a brief visit. I'd spend some time lazing on the beach, catch a movie or two, eat out somewhere exotic and enjoy some shopping. Over summer, in particular, I made sure I had enough books on hand for the 5 week break ahead of me.

I read The Great World for the first time in the summer of 1998. I was still in my twenties (just) and the main thing I remember 18 yrs later is that this book had a profound impact on me. It also led to a long-standing literary love affair with David Malouf.

Before I started it again recently I tried to recall what was it that I remembered so clearly and profoundly. I quickly realised that I had no idea about the plot or characters. I had a vague idea that it was about one of the wars and friendship. The impact lay in the writing.

I was impressed (and at times overwhelmed) by the intelligence of Malouf's writing. His ability to describe an everyday emotion or thought so that you could grasp it yourself blew me away. There was nuance and complexity and humanity. And at times I struggled to keep up.

I was therefore excited and a little daunted to be starting this book again.

The opening line hooked me though. I read it a couple of times and thought, this is what makes a great book - a heart-stopping, breath-catching, let-me-read-that-again beginning.
People are not always kind, but the kind thing to say about Jenny was that she was simple.
Straight away I was reminded of why I loved Malouf's writing.
I couldn't remember who Jenny was, but suddenly I remembered that this was a book about kindness, suffering and what makes us, unites us and divides us as human beings.
This was a big picture story told through the lens of a few specific characters that I was about to get to know again.

The Great World is a war story - WWII and Changi. It is about friendships - the kind that last for ever, the kind that surprise, the kind that develop thanks to circumstances. It is about suffering - inflicted by others and that inflicted on ourselves. And it is about kindness in all it's guises.

The connections, or threads, that link us to each other, to our memories, to our shared histories and even to our future selves are all explored.

My reread was much easier than I remember the first, but my literary love for Malouf remains unchanged. I only wish I had more time to reread his entire backlist a

The Great World won the Miles Franklin Award in 1991
I read this book as part of my Classics Club challenge and ccspin #9.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Which Travel Guide?

At work I often get asked which travel guide people should take with them on holidays.

In the past I have been known to travel with up to three or four guides tucked into my backpack and suitcases.
I like them all for different reasons - the weight be damned!

Our recent trip to Vietnam gave me a good excuse to work out what it was about three particular ones that I liked and why. We travelled with a Vietnam Lonely Planet, a Vietnam and Angkor Wat DK Eyewitness and one Wallpaper Guide for Ho Chi Minh City.

Personally I am drawn to the DK Eyewitness books.
I like the glossy pictures and full page spreads featuring areas of interest. I like how they go into depth about the history and the culture. I usually find myself reading the DK on the plane heading over to get me excited about what I will be seeing and experiencing. However, some of their information for Asian countries feels secondhand or a little out of date.

It's the Lonely Planet that I turn to for the details that I need.
I can always count on them to give me specific information about tickets, prices and correct addresses. Their writers have been on the ground and checked out the tours and the places of interest.
But the Lonely Planet folk can sometimes sound a bit cynical or jaded. I also I feel that they cater to the younger backpacker more than older traveller.

And that's where the Wallpaper Guide came in.
One of the many, many advantages of being an older (or as I prefer to think of it - a more experienced!) traveller is being able to afford a nicer style of accomodation and dining experience.
When we wanted to know a good restaurant or roof top bar to adjourn to, the WG never led us astray. The whole shopping thing is not really my focus when I go overseas so I tend to skim those sections. But the information in the WG about the architecture and landmarks was fascinating and useful.
There are so many more travel guides for Vietnam - the montage above highlights just a few of the most well-known ones. Maybe we missed something really important or really special by not travelling with one of these?
Or maybe we should ditch all the travel guides? Perhaps we're missing out on a truly authentic, free-wheeling experience by not discovering everything for ourselves and working it all out as we go along?

In today's modern world it's also nigh impossible to travel without our modern technologies. Supplementing our Vietnam travel books, our recent holiday also relied on dear old google maps and tripadvisor. Is all this easy information and sharing a good thing or not?

Do you like to travel with a guide or two?
Which travel guides do you like to travel with and why?

I hope to plan another holiday again soon so I can research this very interesting topic in more depth!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I had no intention of reading Amy Poehler's memoirs.

In Australia the whole Saturday Night Live phenomenon is something we know very little about - occasionally we see snippets like the Tina Fey send-up of Sarah Palin, but that's it.
It's not something we experience. It is not on any of our free-to-air TV stations, so therefore not a part of our culture or our day-to-day life.

(Out of curiosity I just googled Foxtel. We don't get SNL as an option there either...just the anniversary specials if you subscribe to the Comedy channel.)

I have seen a few episodes of the first season of Parks and Recreation, but I was like 'meh' & left off after a while.

But then a reading copy became available at work and I was in need of a laugh, so I thought 'why not?'

And it was indeed an entertaining and amusing read as well as providing a curious insight into American pop culture.

Although we didn't get SNL, we did watch a lot of US sitcoms and programs as kids. I grew up watching reruns of The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Lost in Space, Gentle Ben, Happy Days, Eight is Enough and Flipper.

Poehler is only a few years younger than I am & grew up on the other side of the world, but thanks to those TV sitcoms, her childhood looked very familiar.

When she stuck to the personal stuff about family, growing up, love, divorce, children, friendships and career choices I enjoyed what she had to say and how she said it (mostly). Sometimes the humour grated a little, but I'm more in tune with the Aussie self-deprecation style of humour than the observational, improv style that Poehler uses.

I'm sure that if you grew up on SNL and were a fan of the show, then Yes Please would be a hoot from start to finish.

From the other side of the world, it was an interesting, sometimes funny look at life growing up in America. (It was also the perfect read for the recent Dewey's 24hr Readathon!)

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A-Z of Convicts in Van Dieman's Land by Simon Barnard

The CBCA shortlist is a good way for schools and libraries to stock up on good quality Australian non-fiction.

The A-Z of Convicts fits this bill beautifully. Presented in an oversized hardback book with generous illustrations loaded with details, A-Z of Convicts packs in a lot of interesting information.

Barnard covers every conceivable convict topic from absconders to prostitution, bushrangers to tattoos. He explores their jobs, work conditions, punishments, how they lived and spent their leisure time.

The illustrations are based on records from the time. Barnard has included the convicts physical features (height, hair colour, tattoos etc) as described on their official records .

He also uses architectural plans to show cut-out diorama's of the ships, buildings & rooms common to this world.

The pages have an old-style look, but the actual pictures are crips, clean and easy to pour over. There is a glossary, a table of weights and measures and an extensive bibliography at the back.

Barnard grew up in Launceston, Tasmania. He obviously feels a close connection to his islands' history as this book has all the markings of a labour of love.

Suitable for 8+ readers, although some of the information will be better suited to an older age group.

Monday, 4 May 2015

It's Monday....

...and I'm finally caught up on all my half-finished novels!

I still have a few out-standing non-fiction titles by the bed, but it usually takes me months to read non-fiction anyway (biographies are the exception to this rule).

Perhaps if I could just read one book at once, I would get through more, but my reading is very much mood based. Some days are non-fiction and some days are not.

So what does this, the first week in May hold for me and my groaning bookshelves?

First up is the start of my month-long Wharton Review.

I will be rereading The Age of Innocence this year in the hope of knocking my Classics Club challenge into a higher gear.
Set in old New York, this novel details the thwarted romance between Newland Archer, a young dandy, and the beautiful, unconventional divorceee Countess Ellen Olenska. The cast of characters includes Newland's docile - and calculating - fiancee, May Welland and the lordly Mrs Manson Mingott.
In fact May will be the month of reread's for my Classic Club list.

The Great World by David Malouf is my Classic Club Spin this month. I first read The Great World in 1997, which also marks the beginning of my lifelong love affair with all things Malouf.
Every city, town and village has its memorial to war. Nowhere are these more eloquent than in Australia, generations of whose young men have enlisted to fight other people's battles - from Gallipoli and the Somme to Malaya and Vietnam. In THE GREAT WORLD, his finest novel yet, David Malouf gives a voice to that experience. But THE GREAT WORLD is more than a novel of war. Ranging over seventy years of Australian life, from Sydney's teeming King's Cross to the tranquil backwaters of the Hawkesbury River, it is a remarkable novel of self-knowledge and lost innocence, of survival and witness.
During May & June I also plan to join in Corinne's Gone With the Wind readalong @Pursuit of Happiness.
Margaret Mitchell's epic novel of love and war won the Pulitzer Prize and one of the most popular and celebrated movies of all time.

Many novels have been written about the Civil War and its aftermath. None take us into the burning fields and cities of the American South as Gone With the Wind does, creating haunting scenes and thrilling portraits of characters so vivid that we remember their words and feel their fear and hunger for the rest of our lives.

In the two main characters, the white-shouldered, irresistible Scarlett and the flashy, contemptuous Rhett, Margaret Mitchell not only conveyed a timeless story of survival under the harshest of circumstances, she also created two of the most famous lovers in the English-speaking world since Romeo and Juliet
I first read GWTW during my uni days. I loved how Mitchell picked me up & swept me along in her wake. It was one of those books that made real life seem dull by comparison. I can't wait to see if it has the same effect on 40-something me!

What will you be reading this week?

Are you joining in any of the above readalongs or challenges?

Do you enjoy rereading old favourites?

If you'd like to add your It's Monday URL in your comments during Sheila's absence, I will try to pop by and visit. Or follow on twitter #IMWAYR

PS Can anyone see the column on the RH side of my blog? When I view the whole blog, the column seems to have disappeared from view. But when I open a post...there it is! Are any other blogger uses having weird format glitches?

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Wharton Review 2015

Welcome to the second Wharton Review!

During the month of May, I take a break from my regular reading schedule to fit in a Wharton or two.

In 1921, Edith Wharton was the third person & the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with The Age of Innocence.

The Pulitzer is awarded for "distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life."

Many of Wharton's books fit this criteria. But she also spent a lot of time in Europe, particularly, in Paris during WWI, which meant that many of her books had a fascinating Continental flavour as well.

My plan this month is to reread Age of Innocence. I adored this book when I first read it about 15 years ago. I hope to rekindle the love affair (& watch the movie starring Daniel Day Lewis & Michelle Pfieffer again)!

Wharton's Goodreads author page can be viewed here if you need help getting started.
There is also a dedicated webpage called The Edith Wharton Society.

If you'd like to join in please add your blog or goodreads URL to the linky below.

Spread the word about The Wharton Review by using #whartonreview on facebook, twitter and instagram.

Copy The Wharton Review badge to add to your posts or sidebar.

There is no pressure or expectation with this month long review. Simply read, blog or comment on all things Wharton at your leisure.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Germinal by Émile Zola

I cannot thank Fanda @Classiclit and O @Behold the Stars enough for introducing me to the wonderful world of Zola.

Last year I read Nana for Fanda's Zoladdiction month with great enjoyment...and anticipation...for my next Zola.

This year I wanted to read Zola's most famous and most well-regarded novel, Germinal.

It is the 13th book (chronologically) in the 20 volume Les Rougon-Macquart series. Although Zola, himself added a recommended reading order in his last book, Doctor Pascal, in which he placed Germinal in 16th position. (Nana was the 9th book published, but Zola placed it at 17th on his reading order.)

I'm not sure where to start with my love and praise for Germinal though. (My 'initial thoughts' post can be found here).

Germinal was a big, epic, heart-wrenching read, full of the daily drama's of a mining community in 18th century France.The attention to detail and intimate knowledge was extraordinary - in fact, my edition included 20 pages of Zola's Notes on the Mines at Anzin, which revealed just how much research Zola did before writing Germinal.

This personal knowledge gave the book a tangible, visceral quality especially in Zola's descriptions of the miner's work. I felt every sharp edge, every constricted passage and every airless chamber. I felt their exhaustion and their helplessness to change their situation in life.

The true genius though, is that Zola also made it possible for you to feel a similar level of empathy for the bourgeois characters. Not completely, but enough to see how the bourgeois upbringing affected the way they viewed the world and the worker's conditions.

It took the disaster at the end of the book for both sides to see, fleetingly, each other's humanity.

One of Zola's literary devices that I really enjoyed was his personification of the mines:
the monster swallowing down its daily ration of human flesh, the cages emerging, then plunging downward again, engulfing thier loads of men without stopping, gulping them down like a voracious giant.
The mines became another character to become attached to - so much so that I found myself deeply affected by one of the mine's demise towards the end.

Germinal's ending is quite beautiful and hopeful, which I believe is unusual for Zola. He brought the story full circle with his 'germinating' symbolism & Étienne's walk.

I also adored my translation by Raymond N. MacKenzie. He brought Zola's language to life. I was delighted that I had taken the time to research which translation worked best for me before purchasing & reading. I will be using the Compare Literary Translations site again.

Thank you to Fanda for hosting Zoladdiction again this year. I'm excited about next year's Zola already!