Six degrees of separation, FROM The drover’s wife TO …

Spring at last – in the southern hemisphere anyhow. Winter seemed to start early this year so many of us, in my corner of the world anyhow, have been desperate to see its end. Yes, I know many of you have much more severe winters than we do, but it’s all relative! And on that, before I dig myself into a hole, I’ll just confirm that it’s the Six Degrees time again. As always, if you don’t know how it works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book, but for September she threw us one of those curve balls and told us to use the last book we linked to in our last chain. For me, that was Leah Purcell’s film/book/play The drover’s wife (my post). Lisa reckoned I’m lucky to have that to start with. Perhaps so, and, cross-my-heart, I wrote and scheduled my post before I saw what Kate planned!

Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

There are so many ways I could go with this – another multiply adapted work? Another another “wife” title, because there are many of those? Or, a riff on a classic or well-known work? And this last is the way I’ve decided to go, because I enjoy seeing what later writers makes of a loved work, particularly when they look as it from the perspective of a minority or disempowered perspective – as Purcell did with Henry Lawson’s “The drover’s wife”. My first link, then, is Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad (my review), which looks at Odysseus’ story from the perspective of his wife and the hanged maids.

From here, let’s go to another adaptation of that original work, The Odyssey. This time, I’ve chosen a BBC4 full-cast dramatisation (or, “dramatic retelling”) by Simon Armitage (my post) – which I experienced in audiobook form. (Consequently, my post, like many of my audiobook posts, is more minimal than most).

Sea of Many Returns cover

Odysseus’ goal is, of course, Ithaca, and in my post linked above, I added a little postscript referencing Arnold Zable’s Sea of many returns (my review) which, I said, focuses on Ithaca, and its literal and mythological contexts of “home”.

Sea of many returns is a dual point-of-view novel, with the two points of view being grand-daughter Xanthe and her Ithacan-born grandfather whose journals she is translating. The book is about all the leavings and returnings in their family, for work, adventure, war or, simply, to find a better life. Eleanor Limprecht’s The passengers (my review) is also a point-of-view novel involving a grandchild and grandparent, and leaving and returning. Here, though, both voices are female, and they are travelling together, as the grandmother returns to America after a 68-year absence. She had come to Australia as a war-bride.

Book cover

I’m going to stick to grandchildren and grandparents, and the impact of war, by linking to Favel Parrett’s There was love (my post). In this novel we have two grandchildren and two grandmothers. It revolves around two Czech sisters, one who ended up in Melbourne with the other remaining in Prague, after their lives had been disrupted by the Second World War and the 1968 Czechoslovakian Revolution.

Anthony Doerr, All the light we cannot see

Another dual point-of-view novel – but one in which the stories operate in parallel until near the end – is Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer prize-winning All the light we cannot see (my review). It too is a war story, telling of the Second World War through the eyes of a young blind French girl and a young orphan German boy.

This month, we’ve traveled from mythical Greece to modern Australia, via Europe and Greece, but somehow war has dogged us every step of the way, starting with a background of the Frontier Wars in Purcell’s The drover’s wife.

Now, the usual: Have you read or seen The drover’s wife? And, regardless, what would you link to – except, hmm, I asked that last month of course, so let’s choose something else! Do you have any favourite grandparent-grandchildren novels?

Six degrees of separation, FROM The book of form and emptiness TO …

Last month, as I wrote this post, I had just got back from Melbourne, and this month I am back in Melbourne. Next Six Degrees, I should be in Sydney, all being well. Life is busy at the moment, but we are enjoying catching up with family and friends after two years of limited opportunities. All that’s well and good, do I hear you say, but what about the main point of this post? It’s the Six Degrees meme, of course, and if you don’t know how it works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book, and for August it is another book I’ve not read, Ruth Ozeki’s The book of form and emptiness. GoodReads says it’s a “inventive new novel about loss, growing up, and our relationship with things”. Sounds interesting, but that doesn’t help me right now …

When I haven’t read the starting book, I prefer not to link on content because, you know, I might get it a bit wrong. So, for my first link I’m going with title, and another book that starts with “The book of”. My book is Australian author Leslie Cannold’s The book of Rachael (my review).

Book cover

Cannold’s book is about biblical characters, although the title character is a fictional one. Another book about biblical characters, though in this case the protagonist is real, is Christos Tsiolkas’ Damascus (my review) about Saul who became Paul, in the New Testament.

My next link is weak – I know it – but I’m going there anyhow. Tsiolkas’ Saul became the Apostle Paul, though throughout the novel he remains known as Saul. Garry Disher’s detective in Bitter Wash Road (my review) is Paul Hirschhausen, but throughout the novel he is Hirsch. No-one would ever know he was a Paul!

And now it’s time, after three links, to leave Australia, and the best way I can think of is to go to a much beloved detective of recent decades, Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe from Botswana. I’m choosing one of the two novels I’ve reviewed from this long series, The Saturday big tent wedding party (my review). You’ll have to forgive this very loose link, because Precious is a female private detective whilst Hirsch is a male police detective.

Now, if there is someone who could have done with some of Precious Ramotswe’s common-sense and warmth, it’s Tambu in Tstitsi Dangarembga’s This mournable body (my review). Again my link is very loose, based as it is on the fact that the two novels are set in neighbouring African countries, Tambu living in Zimbabwe bordering Precious’ Botswana.

And now, having found myself here, I can’t resist returning to Australia, linking this time on authors who also make films. Tsitisi Dangarembga has an impressive resume, having won multiple literary awards while also being an active filmmaker of feature, short and documentary films. While she’s not as prolific, Australia’s Leah Purcell is also known as a novelist and filmmaker. I’m linking to her latest production, The drover’s wife (my review), which she’d also written as an award-winning play and a novel.

This month, then, we’ve managed to travel through history and place, from biblical times in the middle east to modern times in Africa and Australia. And we have a 50:50 split in authors, three male and three female.

Now, the usual: Have you read The book of form and emptiness? And, regardless, what would you link to?

#54321 Challenge – Just for fun

Lisa posted this challenge, which she got from Lizzy Siddal, who nicked it from somewhere on Instagram! Love the provenance here!

Each of us has interpreted it in ways that suits us. For me, my interpretation is to draw on authors who have died (except for #1) because there are too many living authors that I love for me to choose from. So, with that proviso, here goes …

#5 Books I love

In author’s birth order:

Jane Austen, Persuasion
  • Pick an Austen any Austen, let’s go with Persuasion (my post), which has such a lovely, mature heroine who, nonetheless, had to learn to make her own decisions. 
  • Edith Wharton’s The house of mirth, which I read before blogging, but which has left a lasting impression for its story of a woman who was torn between love and integrity, and (what she thought would be) security.
  • Patrick White’s Voss, which I read in my teens, long long before blogging. It was the book that turned me on to White.
  • Albert Camus’ The plague/La peste (my post) which I also first read in my late teens, which I encouraged my reading group to read many years later, and which continues to resonate with me.
  • Thea Astley’s Drylands (my post), which is just one of Astley’s novels that has stuck with me for its expressive writing and intellect.

#4 Autobuy authors

Albert Camus, The plague

After the 19th century classics, my first autobuy author was

  • Albert Camus

who was followed by …

  • Edith Wharton, whom I discovered in the 1980s during our first posting in the USA, and
  • E.H. Young, who was recommended to me by a Kiama, NSW, bookseller, in the late 1980s. I subsequently bought, or was given, all of her books that were published by Virago.

And then an Aussie, but which one? Perhaps the first Aussie, besides Patrick White, whom I wanted to autobuy was

#3 Genres I love

Most of you could probably guess this:

  • Literary fiction
  • Classics
  • Literary biographies

#2 Places I like to read

Where else but stretched out on a sofa, or in bed.

#1 Book I’m Going to Read Next

I haven’t quite decided, but my next reading group book is Audrey Magee’s The colony. This will not be my next review, however, as I am currently reading a First Nations’ book, and will probably read a couple more before I read my reading group book!

Six degrees of separation, FROM Wintering TO …

Why do I always start these posts with the weather or the seasons? This time I’ll break with tradition and start with the fact that I’ve just got back from a lovely trip to Melbourne where we enjoyed some good family times, albeit interrupted in the middle by COVID isolation. How our lives have changed over the last two to three years, as we take these things, not quite in our stride but, at least, as sort of normal or to be expected? What hasn’t changed, however, is our Six Degrees meme. If you don’t know how this meme works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book, and for July we are back to a book I’ve not read, Katherine May’s Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times. It’s a memoir, and I think the subtitle speaks for itself. I like the concept of “wintering” or lying fallow as you heal.

I thought a lot more than usual about my first link this month, toying with several ideas. In the end I decided to go with a title using a present participle that refers to an action that’s the subject of the book. Jim Crace’s Being dead (my review) is about a couple found dead among the dunes on a beach. As well as being the story of a crime, this novel also details what happens to dead bodies. It’s pretty visceral, but I learnt things I’ve not forgotten! I love it when fiction does that.

Bianca Nogrady, The end book cover

My next link was easy, because I went for the obvious, science writer Bianca Nogrady’s book The end: The human experience of death (my review). As you might have guessed from the title, it’s a nonfiction work that explores death and dying from multiple angles, including physical, psychological, scientific, and legal. I found it so interesting.

Bianca Nogrady, The best Australian science writing 2015

My next link is also pretty obvious, as it’s on the author Bianca Nogrady, except that for this book she’s the editor not the author. It’s The best Australian science writing 2015 (my review). I’ve come to love these volumes for their varied content ranging across all sorts of science from climate to AI, from how the brain works to research into disease, and so on.

Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universe

And now, unusually for me, I’m sticking with creator for yet another link. It’s interesting how many writers of fiction are also journalists and essayists. Trent Dalton, to whose book Boy swallows universe (my review) I’m linking, is an example. He had a piece in Bianca Nogrady’s anthology called “Beating the odds” about a driven Australian man who developed an artificial heart.

Rabih Alameddine, An unnecessary woman

But now its time to branch out, and I’m going personal this time. Trent Dalton’s book was my reading group’s first book in 2019. Our first book the year before, 2018, was Lebanese American writer Rabih Alameddine’s An unnecessary woman (my review). This was a great read on many levels, including the fact that the main character, a 72-year-old woman is a great reader who comments frequently on the books she reads, including Australian authors like Patrick White and Helen Garner.

Valeria Luiselli, Faces in the crowd

I nearly linked on one of those authors, but we’ve spent a bit of time in Australia this post, so I’m linking on something different. Alameddine’s protagonist Aaliya spends her time translating books, even though they will never be published. It’s an exercise for her. Another novel that features a translator – though in this case it is her job for a while – is Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the crowd (my review).

I don’t see any obvious link back to the starting novel. The meme doesn’t require there to be, but it’s fun if there is one. As is common for me, four of my books are by female writers (or editors) and two by male. While we’ve spent quite a bit of time in English-speaking countries, we have also been to Beirut and Mexico City, which are places I rarely take us to.

Now, the usual: Have you read Wintering? And, regardless, what would you link to?

Six degrees of separation, FROM Sorrow and bliss TO …

What a cold, cold start we’ve had to winter here in the nation’s capital. We have already had a few maximums under 10°C, and winter has barely started. I hate it, but I am lucky to have a warm house, so I’ll stop complaining and be grateful. And, anyhow, we have hope that our new Government will follow up on its promises on big issues like the Uluru Statement from the Heart, climate change and resolving some long-standing asylum seeker/refugee issues. We wait to see what happens. Meanwhile, let’s get onto this month’s Six Degrees. As always, if you don’t know how this meme works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book, and for May we are back to a novel I’ve not read, Meg Mason’s Sorrow and bliss about a woman, and the aftermath of her separation from her husband. What else can I say about it? I haven’t read it, as I said, but those who have are impressed.

I don’t like linking on content of books I’ve not read, so I’m not going there. Instead, I’m linking on titles comprising opposite concepts – taking us from Sorrow and bliss to Lost & found, by Western Australian-based author, Brooke Davis (my review). Like Sorrow and bliss, Lost & found deals with a sad subject, but both books do it with humour (at least I understand Mason’s does).

Humour, however, is not my next link. Instead I’m linking on the idea of a mother disappearing at the beginning of a novel. This is what happens in Lost & found, and it also happens in Margaret Barbalet’s Blood in the rain (my review), albeit under quite different circumstances. It had been on my TBR for decades, so I was really pleased to find time to read it this year.

My next link is not at all clever. I read Margaret Barbalet in January, and in April I read (actually, listened to) another Margaret – Margaret Atwood’s poetry collection Dearly (my review) which covers a range of subjects dear to Atwood’s heart, including women’s rights and environmental issues.

Another poet whose political passions are well-known is Australia’s John Kinsella, so it is to his prose memoir, Displaced: A rural life (my review) that I’m linking next. He was born in and has now returned to the Western Australian wheatbelt. He writes so evocatively of the place – and of the challenges wrought by the long tail of colonisation.

My next link pays homage to the author, Katharine Susannah Prichard, because last month I attended the online launch of Nathan Hobby’s The red witch, the first thorough biography about her. I’m linking to a short story by her, “The Christmas tree” (my post) because it is also set in the Western Australian wheatbelt. It links beautifully to Kinsella, because, as I wrote in my post, “we are still challenged by the role capitalist structures play in people’s lives and livelihoods”.  Kinsella would agree.

“The Christmas tree” was first published in 1919, and so was another short story, written by another significant woman writer, “The mark on the wall” (my post) by Virginia Woolf. They might be very different stories in very different styles – Prichard’s realist approach versus Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness – but both come from women who have now moved into the canon.

So, a bit of a different month to usual: I have only one male writer, two of the works are short stories, two are by poets, and one I experienced as an audiobook. However, we have travelled around the English-speaking world a little – Australia, Canada and England – and we have spent more time than usual in Western Australia. I can’t see any link back to the starting book.

Now, the usual: Have you read Sorrow and bliss? And, regardless, what would you link to?

Six degrees of separation, FROM True history of the Kelly Gang TO …

Winter is icumen in! Can I say that? For many of you, it’s not that cold here in Australia, but in Australia, my city of Canberra is the coldest capital city in the country. It’s the only thing I don’t like about living here. But, we will survive. Meanwhile, we have things like blogs and memes to entertain us. So, let’s get onto this month’s Six Degrees. As always, if you don’t know how this meme works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book, and for April it’s a novel I’ve read, but not since blogging, Peter Carey’s award-winning True history of the Kelly Gang in which Carey tackles on of Australia’s big (bushranger) myths.

Courtney Collins, The burial

There are so many angles to take from here. One could be its unique syntax (and go to Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl woman other). Another I considered was titles that people aways get wrong. There is no “The” at the beginning of Carey’s title, but that led me down a path I didn’t have time to fully investigate. So, I decided to go with content, and choose Courtney Collins’ The burial (my review), because it is also historical fiction about a bushranger, albeit a women, Jessie Hickman, whom most of us had never heard of.

Arielle Van Luyn, Treading air

Now Courtney Collins made quite a splash with this novel in 2012, but we’ve not really heard from her since. Another novelist we’ve not heard from again (yet) – though her novel didn’t make quite the same splash – is Ariella Van Luyn, and her 2016 historical fiction, Treading air (my review), which also focuses on a real, albeit small-time, historical character.

Book cover

Next, I’m staying with historical fiction – and writers we’ve not heard much from – but the link I’m choosing is the Brisbane 1940s setting (though only part of Treading air is set in Brisbane). The book is Melanie Myers’ Meet me at Lennon’s (my review). Both books mean something to me. Van Luyn’s book is partly set in Townsville where my Mum was born. And, my Mum became a teenager in 1940s Brisbane and experienced the wartime Brisbane that Myers writes about. She also knew Lennon’s.

Book cover

But now, we’ve spent too long in Australia. I was going to say, in historical Australia, but I’m sticking with historical fiction and linking to another another World War 2-set novel, Emuna Elon’s House on endless waters (my review). Both this novel and Myers’ alternates between the present and a past mystery, but Elon’s also moves between the Netherlands and Israel.

Sawako Ariyoshi, The doctor's wife

We are staying with historical fiction – who knew I’d read so much of it – but I’m linking this time on the idea of translation. Elon’s novel was translated from the Hebrew by Anthony Berris and Linda Yechiel. Sawako Ariyoshi’s The doctor’s wife (my review), which tells of the Japanese doctor who developed anaesthetics for surgery, was also translated (from the Japanese) by two translators, Wakako Hironaka and Ann Silla Kostant.

Haruki Murakami, Blind willow, sleeping woman

My final link is a bit of a cheat, because it too was translated from Japanese by two translators, Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin. Its Haruki Murakami’s Blind willow, sleeping woman (my review). I say it’s a bit of a cheat, because this is a collection of short stories so it’s perhaps a little more understandable that there might be more than one translator. However, if you don’t like that, let’s just say the link is another Japanese authored work. Take your pick.

And thus, like last month, I am back to more women writers in my link, with five this month. We have, however, travelled a little, from Australia to Japan, via The Netherlands and the Middle East. We have spent quite a bit of time in the early to mid twentieth century, except that with Ariyoshi we did go back to the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries. I can’t think of any real link between the starting and ending books except – and maybe this is a good one – both Carey and Murakami were born in the 1940s, and both have had significant writing careers.

Now, the usual: Have you read True history of the Kelly Gang? And, regardless, what would you link to?

Six degrees of separation, FROM Our wives under the sea TO …

It’s April down under. Actually, it’s April everywhere – I know that – but, down under, April is autumn, not spring. All those Easter cards with baskets of pretty flowers, not to mention eggs with their hints of fertility and birth, have always seemed out of place. Gradually, though, we are making this time our own. Easter Bilby anyone? And now, with that important message off my chest, let’s get onto this month’s Six Degrees. As always, if you don’t know how this meme works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book, and for April it’s a debut novel I’ve never heard of – so clearly I haven’t read it (yet again). It’s Julia Armfield’s genre-bending, from what I can see, Our wives under the sea.

Susan Hawthorne, Limen, book cover

Armfield’s novel is apparently a queer story about a relationship that starts to fall apart after one partner returns from “a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe”. I thought a lot about where to go from here, riffing at first on Armfield to Aussie theatre director Armfield who has staged several novelistic adaptations – but that was getting a bit tortuous, even for me. So, I’ve gone with something a bit watery, albeit concerning a flooding river rather than the sea, Susan Hawthorne’s Limen (my review). It’s a verse novel about two women on a camping holiday whose safety is threatened by a rising river, but while there is suspense and tension, there is more here than a simple adventure or suspense story.

Ali Cobby Eckermann, Ruby Moonlight

From here I’m linking on form, because I love to give my favourite verse novels a little push when I get the opportunity. I’ve posted on a few verse novels over the years, but the one I’m choosing is First Nations’ writer, Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Ruby Moonlight (my review). A work of historical fiction about a young Indigenous girl survivor of brutal massacre, this book has a subtlety that I found impressive.

Book cover

Next, I’m staying with First Nations’ writers, but moving to a memoir and linking on name. In Tell me why (my review), Archie Roach pays great compliment to his late wife Ruby Hunter who provided much of the stability he needed to turn his life around and become the success he now is. 

One of the main issues Roach confronted, and for which Ruby Hunter’s support was important, was alcoholism. For my next link, I’m returning to fiction, and Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain (my review) in which alcoholism plays a significant role in the poverty-stricken life that young Shuggie lives.

Book cover

And now, I’m drawing on this very meme to provide my link. Shuggie Bain is one on the many many starting books I hadn’t read at the time of the meme. It is also one of the very few that I read some time after the meme. Another book in this category is Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet (my review). If these two books are any guide, I guess I really should try to go back and read more of those unread starting books!

My final link is another one personal one. Hamnet was not one of my reading group’s Top Three picks at the end of last year, but it was one of our two highly commendeds. The other highly commended was Delia Owens’ Where the crawdads sing (my review) and so I’ve chosen it for my last link. Not a perfect book, by any means, but a good, heart-felt story.

And there, I am back to four women writers and two men in my links. I could perhaps argue that we’ve come full circle given the starting book and my last one are set in watery domains. The authors all come from English-speaking countries – the United Kingdom, Australia, and the USA.

Now, the usual: Have you read Our wives under the sea? And, regardless, what would you link to?

Six degrees of separation, FROM The end of the affair TO …

March. Summer is over and I’m a bit grumpy, as you couldn’t call what we’ve just had, summer. Very few days exceeded 30°C and none exceeded 35°C. But, I can’t really complain. I am not facing war or floods, and last month a new grandchild – a healthy baby girl – joined our family circle. I’m very fortunate. So, we’ll just enjoy autumn, always a lovely season, and get onto this month’s Six Degrees. As always, if you don’t know this meme and how it works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book. For March, she’s chosen a classic, Graham Greene’s The end of the affair. I’ve read a few Greenes but am not sure I’ve read this one, which has to be a gap in my reading …

Jane Austen, Emma, Penguin

I have, in fact, even reviewed a Graham Greene novel here, but that seemed a  bit boring for a link. Moreover, it’s been some time since I included a Jane Austen novel in my chain, so this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. But no, the link is not on English classics, but on books that have been adapted to films of the same name. The end of the affair and Emma (one of my many Emma posts) have been adapted more than once.

Staying with film adaptations, the most recent film adaptation of Emma was the 2020 version directed by Autumn de Wilde to a screenplay by the New Zealand writer Eleanor Catton. It’s to her Booker prizewinning novel The luminaries (my review) that I’m linking next. Helen Garner is another novelist who has written screenplays (albeit original stories rather than adaptations) but she is not my next link!

David Mitchell, The thousand autumns of Jacob de Poet

The luminaries has a large number of characters. Fortunately, Catton (or her publisher) very generously provided one of those character charts at the front of the novel. Another novel that has a huge character list is David Mitchell’s The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet (my review). No list or chart is provided in this book, but one of my reading group members created one herself. That was in 2010, and over a decade later we still often remind her of her diligence!

Min Jin Lee, Pachinko

I know many of you are David Mitchell fans, but for those who aren’t this novel was set in Japan (in Nagasaki in fact). Mitchell, of course, is not Japanese, but English. Another novel set in Japan but not written by a Japanese writer, is Korean American writer Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (my review). This one, as many of you will know, tells the story of a Korean family in Japan. However, that’s irrelevant to my next link, which is a simple one …

Michelle de Kretser, The life to come

Pachinko was published in 2017, along with a few other books, says she cheekily! One of those was Michelle de Kretser’s The life to come (my review), so that’s my simple fifth link. I guess you could say there’s another link here because de Kretser’s book does include some immigrant stories.

Book cover

And now we go from a simple link to an obscure one. The life to come is told in 5 parts, one of which is titled “Pippa passes”. It surely has to be a reference to Robert Browning’s eponymous poem. This made me think of Browning, and epigraphs in books. I love epigraphs! So must Orhan Pamuk as he included four in his novel, Snow (my review), one of which was from Browning. Not from “Pippa passes”, unfortunately, but from “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”, on the paradoxical nature of things: “the honest thief, the tender murderer,/the superstitious atheist”. I enjoy paradoxes too, but, luckily for you, I’m at the end of my Six Degrees!

I feel as though I may have gone a bit rogue with my links this month, but I’ve enjoyed doing so. What isn’t rogue is that I’ve returned to my usual proportion of four links by women writers and two by men. We’ve travelled quite a bit – England, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Turkey – with some brief trips to Korea and other spots around the world.

Now, the usual: Have you read The end of the affair? And, regardless, what would you link to?

Six degrees of separation, FROM No one is talking about this TO …

February already … and so another year starts to whizz by, or so it seems to me. Somehow, this Six Degrees theme just makes it all the more obvious as it comes around very quickly. But now, as it’s clear that I don’t have any small talk – or, alternatively I have too much – we’ll just get on with the main game. (Talking of games, wasn’t Australia’s summer of tennis great this year?!) Anyhow, if you don’t know this meme and how it works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book. This month, she’s chosen a book that was near the top of her Best of 2021 list, Patricia Lockwood’s No one is talking about this. I haven’t read it, so let’s push on …

Steve Toltz, A fraction of the whole

As always, there were so many options for my first link, but I decided to go with the idea of debut novel shortlisted for the Booker Prize, which was the case for No one is talking about this. Many debut novels have been shortlisted for the Booker since it started, but one that I’ve reviewed here is Steve Toltz’s A fraction of the whole (my review). I’ve chosen it because it was a lively read and – well – because I like to remind us of older books that once made a splash.

Peter Temple, Truth

In 2019, ABR (the Australian Book Review) posted their Top 20 Aussie books of the 21st century, which seemed a bit silly given how early in the 21st century it was. However, it does provide me with an interesting link opportunity. Steve Toltz’s book came in at 17. At 16 was Peter Temple’s detective novel, Truth (my review).

I’m not really a big reader of crime fiction, but I admit there’s some good writing in that genre, including good Australian writing. Truth was an International Winner of Germany’s prestigious literary prize for crime fiction, the  Deutscher Krimi Preis (German Crime Fiction Award). And so was Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road (my review). In fact, Disher has won this award a few times.

Book cover

But, hmm, I’ve now linked three Australian books, so I would really like to get us overseas – in books, not just in awards! So, my next link concerns my TBR. Bitter Wash Road had been on my TBR for 8 years when I read it in 2021. A book that had been waiting much longer, from when I bought it in 1995 to when I read it in 2019, was Louise Erdrich’s The Bingo Palace (my review).

Book cover

Now, I’ve mentioned Louise Erdrich on my blog in another capacity besides for this book, and that was as an author who also owns a bookshop. Hers is Birchbark Books and Native Arts, in Minneapolis. Another American author who owns a book shop is Ann Patchett who hit big time with her novel Bel canto (read before blogging.) I read, loved and reviewed her essay (published as a booklet) on bookselling and bookshops, The bookshop strikes back.

And this leads me naturally to another essay by a novelist (and more) who worked in a bookshop, George Orwell’s “Bookshop memories” (my very short review). The essay draws from his work in a secondhand bookshop in London.

I rather like that I’ve gone from a book that deals, at least in part I believe, with the internet and the infiltration of social media into our lives with one about selling secondhand books, in which the author discusses people’s reading tastes! (And, for the first time, ever, I think, the male writers outnumber the female in my six links!)

Now, the usual: Have you read No one is talking about this? And, regardless, what would you link to?

Blogging highlights for 2021

Finally, the last of my traditional, self-indulgent year-end trifecta (which includes my Australian Women Writers’ Challenge wrap-up and Reading highlights posts).

But, like last year, before I launch into my usual analysis, I must send another big shout-out to Bill (The Australian Legend) who continued to curated his Bill curates series of reblogged posts from my blog’s early days to help me over the doldrums in the months after my father’s death. I know I didn’t have to keep posting during that time, but I so appreciated being able to keep up the continuity. Thanks a bunch Bill.

Top posts for 2021

Gradually over the last few years my top posts have shifted to include more posts on recent Australian books. However, a few “usual suspects” posts keep hanging around, and it’s still true that most of the posts are over 5 years old. Regardless of whatever the top posts are, though, they raise the question, why them? They are such a motley lot.

Here is my 2021 Top Ten, in popularity order:

Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universe

None of these, as usual, were actually published in the reporting year (2021). Other observations:

Book cover
  • Mark Twain’s “A presidential candidate” joined the Top Ten in 2018 and reached 2nd spot in 2020. This year it gained the Top Spot! Curious.
  • Three works made their Top Ten debut, and they are all Australian: Fergus W. Hume’s The mystery of a hansom cab, Tara June Winch’s The yield, and Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence.
  • Five of the Top Ten are for Australian works, one less than 2019’s record of 6.
  • Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to safety, a post from 2014, suddenly appeared in 2020’s Top Ten, and remained there? Why now?
  • Barbara Baynton, who has been in the Top Ten for as long as I have been doing this, has slipped out, with “The chosen vessel” slipping from 2020’s no. 5 to no. 15.
  • Red Dog (posted in 2011) was a Top Ten regular until last year when it moved to the Top Twenty, where it remained this year.
  • Seven of the top ten posts were published over 5 years ago.
  • Short stories and essays still feature strongly, but are decreasing – to just three this year.
  • My little post on English language usage in restaurant ordering keeps getting hits!

Five Australian posts appear in the next ten, one more than in 2019 and 2020, and are similar to last year’s: ABR’s Top Twenty Aussie Novels of the Twentieth Century (11) which was a Top Ten last year; Delicious descriptions: Clare Wright’s sources on the Australian landscape (12); Barbara Baynton’s “The chosen vessel” (15); Shaun Tan’s Eric (19); and Red dog (20).

As for posts actually written in 2021? Where did they fit? Well, as usually happens, they appear quite low in the list, with the first one ranking 32. Here are the Top Ten 2021-published review posts (excluding Monday Musings and meme posts):

Two from last year’s published-in-the-year Top Ten – Tara June Winch and Julia Baird – made it into the “real” Top Ten this year. Will any of these achieve the same in 2022?

My most popular Monday Musings posts were:

None of these were in the Top Three last year, except that the 2020 new releases post was. My Australian Gothic (19th century) post, which had been in the Top Three for a few years, wasn’t even in the Top Five this year. Maybe life has been too Gothic recently for people to want to read about it?

Random blogging stats

The searches

Help Books Clker.com
(Courtesy OCAL, via clker.com)

I love sharing some of the search terms used to reach my blog, even though changes to Google a few years ago dramatically reduced search term visibility. However, some still get through, and some find me despite some aberrant spelling at times.

  • there are always some searches that truly make me laugh, or mystify me: jane austen corner laughing; new panjabi sexy stories; chinese gym “guest post”
  • as last year, several searches seemed to be for a school or college assignment about Sherwood Anderson’s short story “Adventure”. Some hopefuls type in the whole question: explain the significance of the title ‘adventure’ by anderson; adventure by sherwood anderson 4. who should be blame for alice’s tragedy [I wonder what the previous three questions were?]
  • I have mentioned Austen scholar Gillian Russell, but my post wouldn’t have helped this searcher: “gillian russell” husband canberra
  • some searches are so general, I’m amazed they found my blog. I have no idea if they find what they want. Try this one: winner announced OR erotic story

Other stats

I wrote 154 posts, one more than in 2020, and just under my long term average of 158. This represents an average of nearly 13 posts per month..

Merlinda Bobis Fish-hair woman

Australia, the USA, Britain, in that order, continue to be the top three countries visiting my blog. The next three slots mirrored last year’s: India, the Philippines and Canada. The Philippines seems to be here primarily because of continued interest in my post on Philippine-born Merlinda Bobis’ Fish-hair woman. I think she’d be pleased. Anyhow, Germany, France, Mexico and China, in that order, round out the Top Ten.

Challenges, memes and other things

I only do one challenge, the AWW Challenge, which I wrapped up last week, and one regular meme, #sixdegreesofseparation run by Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest). I occasionally do others, which you can find on my “memes” category link.

I also took part in Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) Indigenous Literature week, Bill’s (The Australian Legend) AWW Gen 3 Week Part 2, and Nonfiction November. More casually, I toyed with Novellas in November (Cathy of 746 books and Rebecca of Bookish Beck), the #YEAR Club (Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling and Simon of Stuck in a Book), and Brona’s Aus Reading Month.

All of these align with my reading practice, and frequently give me a welcome opportunity to delve into the TBR.

Being blogging mentor for the New Territory program (2017-2019) was a highlight, until the pandemic struck. Now, online communications have moved on, and thus, I’d argue, also the original impetus for this program. However, I want to report on the activities of its “alumni”. Angharad continues to actively blog at Tinted Edges and has had some wins in short fiction competitions, while continuing to work on her novel. Emma Gibson is now based in Melbourne, and following her dual interests of playwriting and writing about place. Amy Walters is building her excellent criticism cv. You can find a list on her blog, including several published in 2021. This year I reviewed These strange outcrops, a special edition of Rosalind Moran’s Cicerone journal. Rosalind continues to write poetry and reviews from her current homebase in Cambridge, UK. Shelley Burr, as I reported last year, won a Debut Dagger for her Aussie noir unpublished manuscript, Wake. It is now set for publication this year with Hachette. I will be reading it. Watch this space.

And so, 2022 …

As I say every year, a big thanks to all of you who commented on my blog this year – the regulars who have hung in with me year in year out, and the newbies who have taken the time to visit and comment. I do hope you stay, because, for me, the conversations are one of blogging’s biggest delights. They help us, I think, grow as readers. Also, as I wrote last year, the friendly but fearless sharing of sometimes opposing ideas demonstrates that social media can be positive and respectful, that communications technology can be used for good. I love being part of proving that.

Beyond the commenters, though, I also want to thank all you wonderful bloggers out there. I apologise for not always managing to visit everyone as much as I’d like. I wish you all good reading and great book talk in 2022.

Finally, huge thanks to the authors, publishers and booksellers who make it all possible (and who have put up with my extreme tardiness this year, but I am catching up). Roll on 2022 …