Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie books I read in 1998

And now for something completely different for Monday Musings, a post about books I read a long time ago! It was inspired by the Canadian-based Debbie of ExUrbanis who has a series of posts on her blog on what she read in the past. I figured 1998 would be a good place to start – because it’s long enough ago to reflect reading of a different time, and I have reasonable, though not perfect, records of what I read back then. However, I’m just going to share my Aussie reads.

So, a few comments, before I tell you what I read. In 1998, I had two children in school, was job-sharing, was on the primary school board – and my bookgroup had been going for 10 years. Life was busy. These facts affected not only how many books I read, but also what I read:

  • Five of the eight Aussie books I read were read for my reading group. We have always aimed to include a good representation of Australian authors in our reading diet.
  • The gender split was 50:50, reflecting my ongoing interest in reading women’s writing. (The overall gender split in my reading for that year was just over 50% women writers, but in my reading group component of that, nearly two-thirds were by women, reflecting our ongoing interest in women writers.)
  • Two of the Aussie books I recorded as having read were Young Adult books, which I read as part of my involvement in my children’s reading. I say “recorded” because I would have read more Aussie young adult and children’s books, but didn’t record them in my diary.

So, what Aussie books did I read in 1998?

Thea Astley, The multiple effects of rainshadowMy records show that I read 8 books by Australian authors, though it’s possible I missed recording the odd book … I’ll list them in alphabetical order by author.

  • Thea Astley’s The multiple effects of rain shadow (1996, novel) (my review): Read with my reading group, this is the only book of the set that I’ve re-read – and that I’ve re-read since blogging, hence a review link for it. I love Astley as regular readers among you know, and this book’s study of the 1930 Palm Island tragedy, is a great example of her writing and of her concerns for outsiders and underdogs.
  • Gillian Bouras’ A stranger here (1996, novel): Also read with my reading group, this novel is an autobiographical story of Bouras’ experience as the wife of a Greek husband, living in Greece. As I recollect, we all enjoyed the exotic nature of her experience within another culture, but we could also relate to the more universal challenges of being mother and wife.
  • Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs (1997, novel): My reading group has read several books by Carey over the years, but this work of historical fiction which explored Charles Dickens’ character of Magwitch (from Great expectations) is among the more popular of his that we’ve done. It won the Miles Franklin Award.
  • Robert Dessaix’s A mother’s disgrace (1994, autobiography/memoir): And this, I read on my own! I’m not sure how well-known Dessaix is known outside of Australia, but this was his first book. He has gone on to write other memoirs, as well as novels and other works of non-fiction. A mother’s disgrace tells the story of his childhood as an adopted person, and, as Wikipedia describes it, “his journey to an alternative sexuality”. Many of us Aussies have enjoyed his contributions on such ABC radio programs as Books and writing and Lingua Franca.
  • Delia Falconer’s The service of clouds (1997, novel): Another reading group read, this was Falconer’s debut novel. It’s an historical novel set in the Blue Mountains. As I recollect, we had mixed reactions to it, but I do remember its gorgeous descriptions of a part of Australia I love. (I’m a mountains person!)
  • James Maloney’s A bridge to Wiseman’s Cove (1996, young adult novel): The first of the two Aussie young adult novels I recorded for this year, it’s about a 15-year-old boy, and his travails after his mother disappears. I remember enjoying its description of small beach-town life and the characters there, but can’t say much else about it. I also read, around this time, two books by Maloney in his Gracey trilogy (1993, 1994 and 1998). Set in southwest Queensland, the protagonists have indigenous Australian backgrounds. A non-indigenous Australian is unlikely to write such books now, but I remember finding these moving. We had little else to read on the topic then.
  • David Malouf’s An imaginary life (1978, novel): Now this is where I must admit something shameful! I’ve read six of Malouf’s nine novels to date, and have loved them all – well, all except this one. It was another reading group book, and I can still remember the meeting! It tells the story of the Roman poet Ovid, and it won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction. Most of my reading group liked it. I can’t explain why I didn’t, given my love of Malouf’s work in general, but I think it was one of those timing things. I was just too tired to put the necessary energy into it.
  • Christobel Mattingley’s No gun for Asmir (1993, children’s-young adult biography): Publisher Penguin’s website says “War has come to Asmir’s home in Sarajevo. He is torn from his father, his home and everything he has known. He becomes a refugee. This is a story of courage you will never forget.” While I forget the details now, I haven’t forgotten its power, nor the fact that such a book was written for young people.

Do you keep records of your reading? Do you remember your highlights of 1998?

42 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie books I read in 1998

  1. I haven’t read any of these, though I wish I’d read the Astley. I’ve heard lots of Dessaix readings on the ABC over the years and always found his style a bit forced.

    I didn’t keep records, but in my first year back at truck driving almost certainly read nothing but newspapers and science fiction.

    • That Astley is great Bill. It’s not too late! I get what you mean about Dessaix. He had a unique style that took me a while to warn to, but I did enjoy the issues he’d cover.

      Do you wish you’d kept records?

  2. What to do, what to do? I really like Peter Carey. I really don’t like Charles Dickens. Dare I try Jack Maggs? Would I fully appreciate it?

    I didn’t record many books in 1998 but what records I have reveal that it was the year I discovered Jane Urquhart, and that I finally read Plath’s The Bell Jar.

    Thanks for the shout-out, Sue – I need to get back to these posts.

    • Would you like Jack Maggs without the Dickens? I’m pretty sure it could be read a straight historical fiction. Shame about not liking Dickens though 😁

      I’ve read Urquhart but I think earlier, and I certainly read The Bell Jar earlier. Interestingly, my friend whom I meet monthly for movie and lunch was reading it last time we met – for the first time.

      As for the shoutout – a pleasure. Credit where credit’s due, as they say.

    • I wish I did Carmel. I keep records now and have for a couple of decades, but the best records peter out around the mid-1990s. I am planning to concoct them further back, from letters (I wrote weekly to my parents in the early 90s when we lived overseas and usually mentioned my reading of course) and adhoc diaries but they’ll be less complete. I think Lisa might have kept better records for longer, than I did.

  3. Though Goodreads has allowed me to recall most of the books that I have read over a lifetime (I think), I do not remember what year I read what. Since I have been blogging I obviously have a record. But nothing before that. It is really neat that you have this recorded.

    1998 seems like just yesterday. It is hard to believe that it was 20 years ago.

    • Thanks Brian. Yes I’m gradually populating GoodReads more and more, but I haven’t put all my records there. I do love having these records, but then I was a librarian-archivist so recordkeeping is probably in the blood. I know how useful they are!

  4. Hi Sue, I have read all the books you mentioned except for the two young adult novels. I have an index book of the authors I have read that I began probably in 1983. Yet, it is only from about 2002 that I have started to date them. I also now write the books I read for the year at the back of my library. I thought the Service of the Clouds was a beautiful book. I was there in the landscape of the Blue Mountains and the clouds.

    • Oh good for you Meg. I need to go back to my 1980s diaries, which I kept sporadically to fill in that period, but I think I didn’t record reading there rigorously.

      I remember the landscape and mood of the mountains as the main joy of that book. She hasn’t gone on to write a lot of fiction it seems.

  5. How lovely to be able to look back like this. I wish I had been so diligent. I’ve only started doing this in the last few years.

  6. I’d been keeping a reading journal for just over a year in 1998. I had just discovered online reading groups and an American woman in one of them had been keeping a journal since she was about 10! Never too late, I thought, and now I have 39 of them…from which I constructed an Excel file (so that I can find which journal a book is in).
    In 1998 I was reading Australian books too: Amy Witting’s Maria’s War, Debra Adelaide’s Serpent’s Dust, Roger McDonald’s Mr Darwin’s Shooter, Dorothy Johnson’s One For the Master, Alan Gould’s Close Ups. There was Sue Woolfe’s Painted Woman, Marion Halligan’s A Golden Dress and Self-Possession, Elizabeth Jolley’s The Orchard Thieves, Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs and Secrets by Robert Dessaix, Amanda Lohrey and Drusilla Modjeska. Plus two books my son gave me: A Biased Memoir by Ruth Cracknell and Robert Dessaix’s Night Letters (which I loved!)
    I read two books in Indonesian (one was an Agatha Christie!) And (this will surprise you) that wasn’t the only crime novel I read: also Shane Maloney’s Nice Try, and two by Donna Leon.
    Books with a long lasting impact on the way I think about things that I read that year were Henry Reynold’s This Whispering in My Heart and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel – and my favourite of all, A Room of My Own by Virgina Woolf. Virginia: you will be pleased to know that it took me a while to get here but I am writing this in a room of my own and that by the sweat if my own brow I have an independent income of my own too!

    • Haha, Lisa … love your final comment. So it sounds like you started keeping records around the time I did. My Filemaker Pro db that I now keep, I’ve backfilled back to 1996 (which is when I joined an online reading group!) but I know it’s not complete. I keep looking for more diaries, letters and records. I’ll find more.

      I did read Night letters too, but the next year I think. Other authors I read in 1998 included Amy Tan, Willa Cather (whose My Antonia I’d read a few years earlier and loved) and Louis de Bernieres. I also read Isabel Allende’s very moving memoir, Paula. I haven’t really been an Allende fan but that book has stuck with me. (SO YOU’VE read Donna Leon! That’s one up on me!!)

      A room of one’s own is great – but I read it back in the 1970s. It’s imprinted on my brain though – unlike some books.

  7. In 1998 I had a four year old in kindy and a new baby (and a mild dose of PND), so I think it is unlikely I read very much at all; I was just taking each day as it came. I am tempted by the Carey book, I have enjoyed some of his writing and I really liked Great Expectations, to read another view of Magwitch sounds interesting. I too like Astley and may well give that one a go, the Dessaix work sounds right up my alley, just checking the library catalogue now. Thanks for the list 🙂

    • Ah Jenny, I understand where you were at and your lack of reading at that time. All very exhausting, particularly if you also had PND, mile or otherwise. If you like Great expectations, and you are open to re-imaginings, then I highly recommend Jack Maggs to you. Do let me know if you read any of these (and you remember what inspired you too – which is something I often forget!)

      • Jack Maggs was one of those books that hung about unread for rather too long so was pruned from my book collection. I wonder if I was unfair to it? I must give it a go one day. A novel that re-imagined Micawber in Australia might be very interesting…I wonder if it has been tried?

        • Oh no, you didn’t, Ian! (Actually, I am starting to clear out unread books too – there comes a time when you have to accept it’s not likely to happen, doesn’t there.)

          Good question re Micawber. I’m not sure it has, at least not to my knowledge (or my brief research after you question.)

  8. ***squeal of excitement! This is what I want from my blog, to be able to look back at what I’ve read over the years to see the books and ideas that shape future me. I haven’t read any from your list, not terribly tempted but loved the idea.

    • Oh no, you cut me to the quick Rose! What’s wrong with my list!! LOL.

      Seriously, though, although I was keeping a record before I started this blog, one of the reasons I started it was to have a better record not only of what I read but of my thoughts. My blog is 9 years old this month … and already I have benefited from the record in all sorts of ways.

      • No, no, I didn’t mean to offend you! You’re a more serious reader than me is all and sometimes I find some Australian writers too heavy for my tastes. I don’t want everything I read to be sunshine and smiles, but I generally prefer a more relaxed book from an Australian author.
        Nine years of blogging is something to be proud of, well done.

  9. I’ve been keeping a record of my reading since 1998. After my first marriage broke up I began reading much more than I ever had before, largely because my husband Steve is such a big reader. It was before I discovered online reading groups (where, as I recall, I met YOU!) I was obviously struck by Helen Garner’s ‘The First Stone’ because I then went ahead and read Virginia Trioli’s ‘Generation F’ and Jenna Mead’s ‘Bodyjamming’. I read three Kerry Greenwoods: ‘Cassandra’, ‘Electra’ and ‘Medea’ (all from her Greek myths series) and Drusilla Modjeska’s ‘Secrets’. Most of my Australian reading was women writers: the only male Australian writer I read that year was Steven Carroll ‘The Lovesong of Lucy McBride’. Of the 20 books I read that year, eight were Australian.

    • We did indeed meet in online reading groups RJ – and how glad I am that that happened.

      Seems like a lot of us started more formal recordkeeping of our reading around then. I had read a high percentage of women writers for a decade or more, but around the mid to late 90s it was leveling out a bit. I think the balance has now swung back towards women again. I should have read Jenna Mead I think.

  10. This is a great idea for a post, and your recording of your reading is admirable. I was in my final year of primary school in 1998 and was (then as now) a prolific reader, but sadly I didn’t keep records. I can definitively date two books to this time – Victor Kelleher’s Taronga and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. They sparked a lifelong love for dystopian fiction!

    • Oh Agnes, you must be a similar age to my daughter who did her final year of primary school in 1999. I remember having Taronga on our bookshelves. I don’t think my kids ever really got into John Wyndham, but I sure did. He was the only sci-fi reader I read when I was growing up – and even now he’s the only one whose body of work I’ve read.

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