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 …

Six degrees of separation, FROM Rules of civility … TO …

I started last January’s Six Degrees with “Woo hoo! A New Year at last after what has really been a doozy for us all, in one way or another. So glad to see the back of it”. Little did we know – still, there was no harm in hoping for better. Regardless of what the year brought us, I hope you all had an excellent Christmas wherever you were and however you were able to spend it. And, given this year’s first Six Degrees of Separation meme actually happens on New Year’s Day, now’s the time to also wish you every good thing for 2022. Now, on with the show. 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’s on my TBR (given to me by my wonderful Californian friend, in fact) and that I want to read, Amor Towles’ Rules of civility. One day!

I’m going to start the year’s links by being a bit silly, and so my link is on a three-word title with “of” in the middle. I was surprised to find I had quite a bit of choice – including Book of colours and Field of poppies – but the title that felt closest in flavour to Towles’ is Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of travel (my review). This novel inspired and challenged me in so many ways.

Graham Greene, Travels with my aunt

Staying with the idea of travel, I’m linking to a novel whose title starts with “travel”, Graham Greene’s Travels with my aunt (my review). I loved reading Greene again after a long hiatus. It was because my reading group selected it as our “classic” pick for 2017.

William Makepeace Thackeray, Barry Lyndon

So, my next link is my reading group’s 2016 “classic” pick … a book that I didn’t enjoy so much, though it had its moments, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The luck of Barry Lyndon (my review). (For those of you who think I LOVE every book I read – think again!)

Book cover

The luck of Barry Lyndon is a good example of a traditional – classic – picaresque novel. When I wrote my post on Eve Langley’s 20th century novel, The pea pickers (my review), I observed that it had elements of the picaresque, and so it is on that idea that I chose it for my next link.

Frank Moorhouse, Cold Light

The two sisters in The pea pickers take to the road, finding work as they can, while exploring the country. In order to find work in those times – the 1920s – when women rarely went on such adventures, and for safety reasons, they dressed in men’s clothes and adopted male names. Ambrose in Frank Moorhouse’s Cold light (my review), however, cross-dresses (in the mid 20th century) because he likes to do so, and fortunatelyfor him the wonderful Edith doesn’t mind.

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Aussie readers will know that Cold light is the third book in what is known as the “Edith trilogy”, so I decided to take the trilogy idea for my last link. I initially thought to choose the third in a trilogy – for a strong link (if some links can be stronger than others) – but, despite having a candidate or two, I decided for various reasons (including a change of continent) to go with Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy, which starts with Gilead (my review).

Coincidentally, we’ve ended up in the country where we started – the USA – but instead of 1930s New York, we’ve moved to 1950s Iowa (in the midwest). Between these books, we’ve travelled more than usual – after all, two of the links are books about travel – and we’ve gone back to 1844. We’ve also visited various 20th century decades, and dipped our toes in the current century. We’ve met ne’er-do-wells and ministers, earnest young woman and cross-dressing diplomats, as well as travellers and migrants. We’ve seen it all – or, at least, a lot.

I like, too, that I’ve started the year with half of my books by men and half by women. How very even of me!

Now, the usual: Have you read Rules of civility? And, regardless, what would you link to?

Six degrees of separation, FROM Ethan Frome TO …

And suddenly it is the last Six Degrees of the year. Once again, I’ve had fun with this meme – with doing my own and seeing what others have done. Thanks muchly to Kate for running the meme and offering us such a varied selection of titles to start from. For those of you new to this meme, please check her blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest – to see how it works.

We start with the book chosen by Kate, and this month it’s Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. I read this book in 1991, and loved it (gut-wrenching though it is.) It started me on a Wharton reading journey that I am still on because, not only did she write many novels, but she was also a prolific short story writer and journalist. I’ve reviewed a couple of her short pieces on my blog. Wharton also created one of my all-time favourite female character names, Undine Spragg (The custom of the country). How good is that!

Anyhow, as you will all be aware, we have hit the silly season, and time is short – for me to write posts and you to read them – so this month I’m doing a title-based “poem”, again. The links are to my reviews.

For Ethan Frome,
A very normal man,
Things fall apart
when Love and freindship collide,
and one In whom we trust
becomes A window in the dark.
Such is The love procession.

With thanks to our sponsor authors, in order: Vincenzo Cerami, Chinua Achebe, Jane Austen, John Clanchy, Dymphna Cusack, and Suzanne Edgar.

  • Vincenzo Cerami, A very normal man
  • Chinua Achebe, Things fall apart
  • jane Austen, Love and Freindship
  • Book cover
  • Dymphna Cusack, A window in the dark
  • Suzanne Edgar, The love procession

(Apologies for the variable image sizes, mostly due to the Gutenberg Gallery editor. I’m not keen to try reloading resized images into my media library with no surety of that fixing it! So, it’s either this or nothing folks!)

So, this month we have travelled the globe – at least to North America, Europe, Britain, Africa and Australia, and we’ve achieved gender quality with three male and three female authors. What better way to end the year.

Now, the usual: Have you read “Ethan Frome“? And, regardless, what would you link to it?

Nonfiction November 2021: New additions to my TBR

Week 5 of Nonfiction November … whew, made it to the end, and it wasn’t so hard!

Nonfiction November, as of course you know, is hosted by several bloggers, with week 5 hosted by Jaymi at The OCBookGirl:

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto YOUR TBR? Do we have any of the same ones?

Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

I wrote in my first Nonfiction November post that I wasn’t looking to add to my TBR, but of course it can’t help but happen. Over the month I’ve seen many, many books that appealed to me and that I’d love to read, but I really can’t add increase my TBR. However, I couldn’t call myself a keen reader if I didn’t add just a couple, so here are a few that REALLY tempted me:

Book cover
  • Graphic nonfiction: I commented on Words and Peace Emma’s post that I am not much of a graphic fiction reader, let alone graphic nonfiction, but some of the books she listed did grab my attention, like Grant Snider’s I will judge you by your bookshelf. What reader doesn’t sneakily do this from time to time?
  • Literary biography: I do love literary biography, and a few came up this month. Mallika (Literary Potpourri) gave me Paula Byrne’s The adventures of Barbara Pym; Brona (This Reading Life) gave me one I already had in my sights, Gabrielle Carey’s Only happiness here (on Elizabeth von Arnim); and didn’t someone share Bernadette Brennan’s Leaping into waterfalls about Gillian Mears? If not, they should have, because I want to read it, so I’m including it here.
  • Nature writing – Trees: With a name like Whispering Gums I have to be a bit of a sucker for trees, so I did love Readerbuzz Deb’s Be the expert post on trees. Every book in her list appealed, from forest bathing to books discussing famous trees.
  • More nature writing: Brona also gave me (in the previously-linked post) a book that deviates somewhat from my usual reading, but that I thought might capture my reading group’s attention for our schedule next year. It didn’t, but I’ll keep it on my list: Raynor Winn’s The salt path. And, Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest) reminded me that I still want to read Rebecca Giggs’ Fathoms (about whales).
  • Social issues/Race: Liz (Adventures in reading, running and working from home) shared two books that provoked much thought for her (and for others whom I know have read them): Robin DiAngelo’s White fragility and Layla F. Saad’s Me and white supremacy.

A small list, I know, but more than I intended, to which I owe a big thanks (I think) to the 5 hosts of Nonfiction November 2021 – and all the bloggers who took part and shared your reading. It’s been fun, and edifying!

And now, I’d love to hear whether you added any books to your TBR pile from our blogosphere Nonfiction November month?

Nonfiction November 2021: Stranger than fiction

Week 4 of Nonfiction November … rolling right along …

Nonfiction November, as you surely know by now, is hosted by several bloggers, with week 4 hosted by Christopher at Plucked from the Stacks:

This week we’re focusing on all the great nonfiction books that *almost* don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look into the natural wonders in our world—basically, if it makes your jaw drop, you can highlight it for this week’s topic.

This is a new addition to the Nonfiction November weekly prompts, which is exciting, even for me who hasn’t done this month assiduously in the past. But, how to respond?

What comes to my mind when I think “stranger than fiction” are those coincidences (and the like) that happen in real life that a fiction writer could never get away with. Christopher, though, has taken a broader view, including things like “overcoming massive obstacles”. My problem is that although I’ve read the same amount of nonfiction this year, as last, none of it really seems to fit his description, but I’ll see what I can do about fitting my reading to the theme.

Stranger than fiction: 1, Overcoming massive obstacles

Wendy and Allan Scarfe had to overcome many political, personal and cultural obstacles in supporting a poor Indian village,particualrly in terms of improving educational opportunities, in their memoir, A mouthful of petals (my review).

But, when I think about overcoming obstacles in my reading this year, I have to go to Marie Younan, and her memoir A different kind of seeing (my review).

The story of how she lost her eyesight – the coincidences and lack of knowledge, among other things, that resulted in her losing her eyesight when a young child, and then the ongoing ramifications of this which meant that she did not get the right treatment, later, which may have restored some of her eyesight – is a tragic story.

The story of how she finally managed to migrate to Australia to join her family, having been rejected more than once because of her blindness, is a disgraceful indictment on Australia’s immigration system.

The story of how she, as an adult, found a person (or, he found her), who recognised her needs and who nurtured and gently pushed her into becoming literate – to learn Braille, mix with people, learn English – so that she eventually found employment and became independent, is an inspirational story.

So, yes, Marie Younan had to overcome massive obstacles to get to where she is today. It’s a story that would be hard to make believable in fiction.

Stranger than fiction: 2, Diary as therapy?

Thinking about this topic, though, I realised that Garner’s diaries are perfect, besides the irony of reading her actual diaries when her novels, her fiction, have been criticised as “just” her diaries. Does this make the point moot?

If I soldier on, though, I am a little anxious about what I’m going to say next, because I am presuming to criticise another person’s life choice, in this case Garner’s “strange” relationship with “V”. He is the man who becomes her husband during the second volume of her diaries, One day I’ll remember this (my review). I feel anxious, but I also feel it’s ok because Garner wrote about it, and because we know the outcome, so I’m not exactly saying anything new.

The point is that the relationship turned out disastrously for Garner, and anyone reading the diary could surely see that coming. If this were fiction – besides Garner’s of course, her diaries being the stuff of her fiction, says she cheekily – I would have been hard-pressed to believe the relationship. There just seemed to be too much angst, too much difference between them, for it to work.

However, here’s the thing. What do we write in diaries? Mostly our angst? Of course, diarists will occasionally write the really happy stuff, and, those diarists who are writers, will also often jot down ideas, observations and inspirations. Mostly, though, we write out our angst. We get it out of our hearts and onto the page, which makes us feel better. Diary as therapy, in other words. Taking Garner’s diaries in this context, and knowing too that she’s edited them, we cannot presume to know the whole of her relationship with “V”. However, looking at it purely on the basis of what we read, the fact that they ever married does seem “stranger than fiction”. I think that’s fair enough for me to write.

And now, I’d love to hear how YOU would answer this question. Sock it to me! I’ll believe you!

Nonfiction November 2021: Be the expert, etc

Week 3 of Nonfiction November … a record, for me!

Nonfiction November, as you know, is hosted by several bloggers, with Week 3: (November 15-19) – Be the expert/Ask the expert/Become the expert hosted by Veronica at The Thousand Book Project: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert). 

I’ve done this particular Nonfiction November theme three times before: in 2020 I focused on ageing; in 2019 it was Indigenous Australian rights and lives; and in 2017 it was memoirs on the experience of racism. What to do this year? Hybrid memoir/biographies? Literary biography? Both these interest me, and I have some expertise in them, but I think I’ll go a bit left-field and do Climate Change. While I try to keep informed about climate change, I am certainly NOT an expert.

Become the expert

If I had to choose three books to read, these three seem like good places to start:

Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac’s The future we choose: The stubborn optimist’s guide to the climate crisis (2020): The authors led negotiations for the United Nations during the 2015 Paris Agreement of 2015. I like the idea of a book that’s stubbornly optimistic, because that’s me too. (I know, I know, what am I thinking in the face of too much evidence to the contrary!) 

Tim Flannery’s The climate cure: Solving the climate emergency in the era of COVID-19 (2020): It’s on my TBR for a start. It’s by an Australian scientist who has been writing and acting on this topic for decades. Not only is this his latest, but it encompasses discussion of how the pandemic has affected the climate debate and climate action.

Jane Rawson and James Whitmore’s Surviving and living with climate change (2015): This is an older book now, but it’s Australian and I know from Lisa (her review) that it is packed full of practical strategies which, I’m presuming, will still be valid even if there are now newer strategies for us to also consider. That’s the thing with climate change, isn’t it – things keep changing!

Ask the expert

However, I’m not an expert on what is around on this subject matter, but I do know a blogger who is, Stefanie of A Stone in the River. Some of you may know her from the So Many Books blog, but a few years ago Stefanie switched to focusing on “the Climate Emergency, transitioning to post-fossil fuel zero carbon life, bicycling, gardening, books, community, interbeing, wonder and joy”. As well as sharing her own knowledge and practice about living as green and clean as she can, she also shares books, articles and links to a wide range of relevant information. She’s my go-to blogging expert on the topic.

However, there’s also Marcie, at Buried in Print. She reads broadly but one of her reading projects is Read the Change which encompasses her reading on a range of current issues, including human rights and eco-literature. Marcie also wrote an excellent article, “Rewriting the climate apocalypse” for Herizons, a Canadian feminist magazine. It explores recent non-fiction and fiction writings by women on the environmental crisis. It’s an excellent read and, while I know this is a #nonfictionnovember post, I did like this from Kai Minosh Pyle:

I could try to write a nonfiction piece explaining those things, but sometimes a story lets you get at tangled-up issues in a more nuanced way.

Yes! It sometimes can … but, still, I do like nonfiction too!

Also, I’d love to see what expertise you have or would like to develop – if you’d like to play along.