Six degrees of separation, FROM Trust TO …

A month already into the new year, and of course I can’t believe it! Nor can I believe that I didn’t edit out last month’s opening paragraph when I published this month’s this morning, so this paragraph is different to the one that first went live! Silly me! We have just arrived in Melbourne for three birthdays, so my mind was elsewhere. Anyhow, I’ll put my red-face aside and get on with it. If you don’t know how Six Degrees works, please check meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

The first rule is that Kate sets our starting book. In January it is another book I haven’t read, Hernan Diaz’s Trust. She chose it because it topped her 2022 “best of” book lists. It is about wealth and power in New York so my first thought was Tom Wolfe’s The bonfire of the vanities though I think this is a long bow in terms of the story. However, I haven’t reviewed that on my blog which is my rule-of-thumb for my links, so …

I’m going the easy route and choosing one of the two books that topped my smaller 2022 list of favourite Aussie books. Of the two, I’ve read one (the other being on my February TBR) so that read one will be my link, Jessica Au’s Cold enough for snow (my review). I’m thrilled to hear that it has just been announced the winner of the 2023 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Prize for Literature and the Fiction Prize.

Cold enough for snow concerns a mother and daughter trip to Japan, though what it is about is something a bit different. Another daughter-mother story set in Asia, this time Korea, and told from the daughter’s point-of view, is Elisa Shua Dusapin’s Winter in Sokcho (my review), so that’s my next link.

Book cover

Dusapin’s narrator comes across as a bit of a misfit, as one who seems unwilling to follow the expectations of her community. She reminded me, in this sense, of the protagonist of Sayaka Murata’s Convenience store woman (my review). In fact, I’m not the only one who felt this connection because the GoodReads intro to Winter in Sokcho describes it “as if Marguerite Duras wrote Convenience Store Woman“.

My next link is a bit cheeky, but Murato’s protagonist, Keiko, works, obviously, in a convenience store. Nardi Simpson, in her Song of the crocodile (my review), writes of one of her protagonists that “with guts and confidence, Celie turns her mother’s laundry skills into a business called the Blue Shed, providing work for herself and the other women”. Now, while a laundry isn’t technically a convenience store, I reckon it is a very convenient service, so that’s good enough for me.

Book cover

In Song of the crocodile, the crocodile is a totemic being who becomes angry when things in the town go far too awry for it to be tolerated any more. Peter Godwin’s memoir, When a crocodile eats the sun (my review) also invokes a crocodile being. As I wrote in my post, ‘The title comes from an old Zulu and Venda belief that a solar eclipse occurs when a crocodile eats the sun. They see it as the worst of omens, “as a warning that he [the celestial crocodile] is much displeased with the behaviour of man below”‘. (Of course, I could have just said that I was linking on the word in the title but that would be too obvious.)

Peter Godwin is a Zimbabwean author, and as is Tsitsi Dangarembga. Indeed, they were born two years apart in what was then Southern Rhodesia, but of course to very different families. Anyhow, it’s to her, and her powerful novel This mournable body (my review) that I’m linking for my last book.

So, a bit of an unusual chain this month, because most of my links draw from the content of the stories, rather than from my usual variety of link options. But this is all I had time to do this month. Five of my six authors are women, which is not very diverse, but we did travel to Japan, Korea, and Zimbabwe, as well as Australia – never once setting foot in the usual places like England and the USA. I’m sort of proud of that!

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

    Six degrees of separation, FROM Beach read TO …

    A new year, and here we are again with our Six Degrees meme. Before I get stuck in, though, I would like to wish you all the best for the New Year, and hope that 2023 proves to be a healthy and peaceful one for us all. We could all do with it, particularly those in troubled and disaster-affected parts of the world. Meanwhile, on with this post’s business. 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. In January it is another book I haven’t read, Emily Henry’s Beach read, but, what’s new! It sounds somewhat intriguing. According to GoodReads “A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.” It is of course a perfect title for a down under January book …

    Mary Grant Bruce, Early Tales

    So, it would be easy to go with what my choice of a beach read, but that’s not where I’m going. Instead, I’m looking at author’s name. Emily Henry’s last name can also be a man’s first name. This is also the case with Mary Grant Bruce, so it is to her juvenilia, The early tales (my review), that I’m linking to first.

    From linking on author’s name, I’m next going to title, and another Australian oldie, Price Warung’s Tales of the early days (my review). This title is so similar to that given to Bruce’s juvenilia, but the work is very different. Bruce’s juvenilia are family stories, though not without socio-historical interest, while Warung’s are about convict days and lives, and have clear political intent.

    Next, we are going back to author’s name for the link. Price Warung is a pseudonym used by William Astley (1854-1911). Another Australian writer, pretty much a peer in fact, is Jessie Catherine Couvreur (1848-1897). She wrote under the name Tasma, so it is to her satirical Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill (my review) that I am linking to next.

    Kate Chopin
    Kate Chopin (Public domain, via Wikipedia)

    And now, enough of names and titles! My next link will likely push your credulity a bit, but, you know, all’s fair in six degrees linking, so here goes. As I recorded above, Tasma died in 1897. That year Kate Chopin’s short story “A pair of silk stockings” (my review) was published. It’s a powerful short story, and I want to leave Australia, so that’s where we are going.

    Now, since I’ve pushed things a bit, I’m going to push it again. If you’ve read any of Chopin’s stories, you won’t be surprised to hear that she was inspired by Guy de Maupassant. In my review of the story above, I shared some of Chopin’s thoughts about de Maupassant, which included that, in him she saw, “Here was life, not fiction”. Another writer who admired de Maupassant, albeit with some reservations about the man I understand, was Henry James. However, he did say that his story “Paste” (my review) was inspired by Maupassant’s famous short story, “The necklace”.

    William James
    William James (Public domain, via Wikipedia)

    For my last link, I am taking the easy path, and linking to Henry James’ brother, the philosopher William James and his essay “On some mental effect of the earthquake” (my review).

    So, a bit of an unusual chain this month. Despite the fact that several of my links are straightforwardly on authors and titles, all of the works I’ve linked to are nowhere near contemporary, and the last three are short works rather than books. Some of you, though, may have read Chopin’s or James’ stories, at least? I’ll be interested to hear. Meanwhile, it does seem that this month we’ve not roamed far … staying essentially with “New World” authors.

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

    Blogging highlights for 2022

    As is my tradition, I have separated out my annual Reading highlights from my Blogging highlights, mainly because combining them would result in one very long post.

    Top posts for 2022

    In recent years my top posts gradually shifted to contain more posts on current Australian books. However, this year’s list has reverted to the “old look”, with one exception, which is that, unusually, two posts that were published during the year have made the Top Ten. This is rare because, mostly, they have not had the time to build up a following. It’s also a bit curious, because on those occasions that a this-year post has reached the Top Ten, the reason has been obvious – it’s been a runaway hit of a book, like Trent Dalton’s Boy swallows universe. That’s not the case here, as you can see.

    Merlinda Bobis Fish-hair woman

    Here is my 2022 Top Ten, in popularity order:


    • Four of these (London, Ordering food in a restaurant, Twain and Bobis) were Top Tens last year. These, along with Barbara Baynton, who just missed out last year, are now serial Top Tenners (with some occasionally dropping into the Top Twenty, only to reappear again in the Ten.) All are related, I think, to assignments.
    • Five of this year’s Top Tens are debuts, including, curiously, my post on epiphany in Elizabeth Harrower’s “The fun of the fair” from Belinda Castles’ book. Perhaps the word “epiphany” has been the drawcard here?
    • Last year, six of the Top Ten posts were for full-length books, but that was clearly an aberration, as this year we returned to my more usual motley mix of mainly short stories/essays.
    • Five, versus last year’s seven, of the Top Ten posts were published over 5 years ago, which tells us that blog posts have staying power!

    Just three Australian posts appear in the next ten: Barbara Baynton’s “Squeaker’s mate” (16), my post on the Canberra Writers Festival’s session with Germaine Greer (17), and Red Dog (19). Only Red Dog featured in this group last year, but a different Baynton did also. Red Dog was a Top Ten regular for years until 2020 when it moved to the Top Twenty, where it still remains.

    Regarding posts actually written in 2022, this year saw two appearing in the Top Ten, whereas last year the first one appeared at no. 32.

    Here are the Top Ten 2022-published posts (excluding Monday Musings and meme posts), with their ranking, month published, and relevant nationality:

    One of last year’s 2021-published Top Ten, Shirley Jackson’s “The lottery”, jumped to this year’s “actual” Top Ten. Will any of the above achieve that this year? What surprises me most here is Wallace’s essay on Tracy Austin. Que?

    My most popular Monday Musings posts were:

    Random blogging stats

    The searches

    Help Books
    (Courtesy OCAL, via

    I love sharing some of the search terms used to reach my blog, although search term visibility is no longer what it used to be, which spoils my fun. However, some still get through.

    • this year there were a couple of very long searches … “i mean there is this guy who aparently is using me as his muse to do some form of story telling and writing and pass it off as satire… hmmm… i wonder who the person in the satire could be?…” (this found my Satire tag I think)
    • and this one that seems to have been copied from an assignment question, “dialogue about you at the restaurent you place an order but everything goes wrong the service is poor the food when it comes isnt what you order its poorly prepared even plates and cutlery were not good write your responsetothewaiter andthewaitercomplain” (no prizes for which post this one found)
    • there are always some that mystify me, like “virtuallightexperiments” and ‘“ashfield tamil” wardrobe‘, though repeating the search does reveal what they found (though not whether it was what they were looking for!)
    • as always, several searches seemed to be for assignments, like “writing a war story irony” (which found Wharton, presumably) and “everything good will come. settings” (which found who knows what?)

    Other stats

    Overall, 2022 was a challenging year for me blog-wise and it shows in the stats. I only wrote 138 posts, which is well under my long term average of 155. However, I wrote significantly more words per post this year, and my overall hits for the year increased by 8% on last year. Clearly my posts weren’t too long!

    The top countries visiting my blog are the same as last year: Australia, the USA, Britain, India, the Philippines, Canada, Germany, France, Mexico and China, in that order.

    Challenges, memes and other things

    I only do one regular meme, Kate’s (booksaremyfavouriteandbest) #sixdegreesofseparation, and occasionally do others, which you can find on my “memes” category link. And, of course, as mentioned in a recent post I continue to be part of the Australian Women Writers blog.

    As last year, I also took part, to different degrees, in Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) First Nations Reading Week, Bill’s (The Australian Legend) AWW Gen 4, Nonfiction November, Novellas in November (Cathy of 746 books and Rebecca of Bookish Beck), the #YEAR Club (by Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling and Simon’s Stuck in a Book), and Brona’s Aus Reading Month.

    All of these align with my reading practice, with some providing a welcome opportunity to explore outside my blog’s main focus.

    And so, 2023 …

    As always, thank you 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 hope you have enjoyed the community here enough to stay. A sadness this year was the death in December of longterm friend Neil who had become a semi-regular commenter here and on other blogs. It is a testament to his lively personality and to the community feeling that blogging creates that his loss was commented on with genuine feeling (it seemed to me) by many. Thank you too to the lurkers. I may not know who you are but I know you are there and appreciate your interest and support too.

    I also want to thank all the wonderful bloggers out there. I have done a poor job of keeping up this year, but I do appreciate you and enjoy reading your posts when I can. I wish you all good reading and great book talk in 2023.

    Finally, huge thanks to the authors, publishers and booksellers who make it all possible – and who prove again and again that the book is far from dead. Roll on 2023 …

    Six degrees of separation, FROM The snow child TO …

    Not the weather this month, except to say that Summer has started well. Instead, I’ll just say that I hope you all have a beautiful December, sharing meaningful, nurturing times with the people who matter most to you. It’s not always possible for us all, I know, with families and friends spread far and wide, but that is my wish for you dear readers. And now, I’ll get to our Six Degrees meme. 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. In December it is another book I haven’t read, Eowyn Ivey’s The snow child, which is partly based on a Russian fairytale about a childless couple who build a little girl out of snow. Next day, the snow girl is gone, but they glimpse a little girl in the woods …

    Danielle Wood, Mothers Grimm, book cover

    Many writers have taken fairytales and riffed on them to explore an issue they see as relevant or important. I tend not to gravitate to these sorts of books, but one I did and loved is Danielle Wood’s short story collection, Mothers Grimm (my review) which re-visions some Grimm Brothers’ fairytales – “Rapunzel”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “The Goose Girl” – to reflect on contemporary motherhood.

    Book cover

    It’s not hard to find links for novels about contemporary motherhood, but I’m going to link to a memoir, Australian filmmaker Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Unconditional love: A memoir of filmmaking and motherhood (my review) because it’s about a mother with a successful profession who had to make some very hard decisions about balancing mothering and career. It is great to see that with her children now grown up, she is picking up her career more actively – and, yes, successfully.

    Book cover

    You all know that while I read nonfiction, fiction is my first love, so for my next link I’m returning to fiction and an historical novel about the early years of filmmaking, Dominic Smith’s The electric hotel (my review). It chronicles the life and career of fictional silent filmmaker Claude Ballard. He is sent into bankruptcy through the actions of the nonfictional film inventor Thomas Edison who did his best to exert control over the early film industry.

    Peter Carey Chemistry of tears bookcover

    Dominic Smith is Australian-born but now lives in Seattle, Washington, USA. Another Australian-born writer who has taken up residence in the USA – albeit on the opposite coast – is Peter Carey. I’ve reviewed a few of his books here but the one I’m linking to is another work of historical fiction, The chemistry of tears (my review).

    Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

    The chemistry of tears is set in England and Europe at that time of great industrialisation, but it’s not form or content on which I am linking next. Peter Carey is one of six writers who have won the Booker Prize twice, and I have reviewed books by three of the other five here, JM Coetzee (now Aussie-based), Margaret Atwood, and the one I’m going to link to Hilary Mantel. She won it for Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring up the bodies, but Wolf Hall (my review) is my chosen link, because …

    EM Forster, Howards End

    Wolf Hall is the name of a place, a building, a residence in fact, relevant to the novel. It conveys something about the protagonist’s wolfish actions and presages the novel’s sequel (being the home of Henry VIII’s next wife). EM Forster’s Howards End (my review) is also titled for the name of a place, a building, a residence. This place too has a political resonance in the novel, albeit not embedded in the name itself. It stands for traditional culture and values at a time of significant social change, and is where two opposing ideas come together.

    This month, I have a rare 50:50 gender split in my selections. We’ve not travelled so far, sticking primarily to Australia, the USA and England – though Dominic Smith does have us scampering a bit around the world and Peter Carey takes us to Germany.

    Vale Neil: This morning, Bill (The Australian Legend) emailed me to let me know that one of our commenters, Neil@Kallaroo, had died this week. This was desperately sad news for us. Mr Gums and I attended Neil’s wedding in 1978, and he and his wife ours that same year. Neil frequently commented on my Six Degrees posts in particular, offering his own links. Most recently, though, in late October, he engaged in a discussion about reading eBooks and note-taking on my Telltale post. Neil had been chronically ill for many years, and Mr Gums and I had long been keen to visit him. We finally managed to go to Perth and visit him in hospital in September this year. How great that we did. Neil was his same, lovely, engaged-in-life self. Frustrated by his weakness, he was just getting on with living the best life he could – reading, playing games (online with friends and family), doing puzzles. Vale Neil, you were a good person to know. We will miss your annual Gneillian News!

    Now, the usual: Have you read The snow child? And, regardless, what would you link to?

    Nonfiction November 2022: New to my TBR

    Week 5 on Nonfiction (November 28-Dec 2) is all about what’s New to My TBR, and is hosted by Jaymi (The OC Bookgirl). To be honest, I wasn’t going to play along for this week in which we are supposed to list the books that have made it onto our TBRs from those bloggers have been shared over the month. This is because Last year, for example, I listed EIGHT books in my “New to my TBR” post, and have so far read just one, Gabrielle Carey’s Only happiness here (my review). I rest my case …. However …

    Newly found on my TBR

    In Week 1, two books were recommended to me on my post, that I knew I would want to read. Indeed, they sounded a bit familiar, one in particular. Funny that, because when I returned home from Melbourne in the middle of the month, and looked at the TBR next to my bed – you know, those books that you hope you’ll read soon – there these two were.

    The one I was fairly confident I had was recommended by Australian novelist and feminist Sara Dowse, who has herself appeared several times on my blog. The book she recommended was Susan Varga’s Hard joy: Life and writing. I have reviewed a couple of Susan Varga’s books too – her memoir Heddy and me, and her poetry collection, Rupture – so I am confident that with Sara Dowse’s recommendation and my past enjoyment of Varga’s work, that I will also like this.

    The other I was less sure about, but had started to suspect I might have it too. It was recommended by another Australian writer who has appeared several times on my blog, Carmel Bird. She recommended an author I’d never read before, but the topic of his book sounded right up my alley, as Carmel Bird knew – books, nature and words. The book is Gregory Day’s Words are eagles: Selected writings on the nature & language of place. Nature, language and place … this book of essays looks perfect for me.

    The reason I have both books is that I advanced ordered them from the relatively new publishing company Upswell. Their inventory is so appealing and I’ve ordered/subscribed to several over the two years of their existence, but have not managed to read them because of the backlog of review copies I have. So, here I’m going to say that I’ve decided that I am going to find a better balance in my reading between the review pile – albeit there are many there I want to read – and those books I have bought because I have specifically chosen them. My next twelve months is going to be very busy as I prepare to downsize and sell our family home of the last 25 or so years and move into something smaller, but, after that, I am very hopeful of having MORE time to read. Yay that!

    Eyes bigger than …

    Otherwise, I must admit that I’ve jotted down very few other bloggers’ nonfiction reads – not because I wasn’t interested but because I knew I could not justify adding them to my list. However …

    Melanie (Grab the Lapels) made these recommendations, with comments, on my Stranger than fiction post:

    • Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman’sSounds like Titanic: this one is a hoot
    • Lee Israel’s Can you ever forgive me?: this one made me hang my mouth open
    • Bruce Goldfarb’s 18 tiny deaths: The untold story of Frances Glessner Lee and the invention of modern forensics: this one surprising because I thought there were more forensic pathologists
    • Janice Erlbaum’s Have you found her?: this one I would love to tell you about but do not want to spoil it.

    There were several books in the Worldchangers week, in particular, that also grabbed my reluctant attention, but I’ll just bring a couple to your attention:

    Symeon Brown’s Get rich or lie trying, which Liz Dexter described as “an exposé of the world of internet influencers, or rather those who try desperately to monetise their lives for various reasons, including hauling themselves out of poverty, and who are used and abused by companies who know their desperation”.

    Alone in the kitchen with an eggplant: Confessions of cooking for one and dining alone, a collection of essays edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, which Lou said “helped me to see cooking and eating alone as a privilege and a mark of independence, not a lonely activity”. Many of us either live alone or could very well one day find ourselves alone … this is a great thing to appreciate.

    If you are doing Nonfiction November, I‘ll probably see your recommendations. But, if you’re not, do share if any books recommended by bloggers have grabbed your attention this month.

    Nonfiction November 2022: Worldview changers

    Week 4 of Nonfiction November(November 21-25) is themed Worldview Changers, which is a new one I think for the month. I like this, as it is always good to have a new challenge. It is hosted by Rebekah @ She Seeks Nonfiction and is described as follows:

    One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book or books has impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in?

    Jess Hill See What You Made Me Do

    Second question, first. The book I think that everyone should read for a better understanding of the world we live in is …

    Jess Hill’s See what you made me do: Power, control and sexual abuse (my review). This was a powerful read that I took many, many months to read, after it won the 2020 Stella Prize. It wasn’t so much a worldview changer, for me, because I knew (who doesn’t?) that domestic abuse was going on, but it was certainly eye-opening. While I knew, for example, a lot of it in theory, and had seen many news reports of abuse and violence, the actual stories were gut-wrenching – particularly in the discussion of coercive control, in the levels of abuse of First Nations women, and in the way children are used. The most eye-opening thing was the court system and how the courts too often focus more on the parents’s needs than the children’s and on how men (mostly) can manipulate the system to make it look like the already-controlled wife is incapable of being parenting. This book needs to be read – I thought I knew all this but I didn’t appreciate just how deeply into our systems the problem goes.

    As for books that had a strong impact on me, I’m going to name three. They didn’t necessarily change how I view the world, but they certainly enhanced my understanding of it and/or of myself. They are, in the order I read them:

    • Mark McKenna’s Return to Uluru (my review) for its no-holds-barred investigation into some challenging and hidden stories of Australia’s past. Every new correction to Australia’s history, as we learnt it, has value.
    • Carmel Bird’s Telltale (my review) for its intelligent and revealing insights into how her reading affected her, which in turn contributed to my thinking about my own reading and its impact on my intellectual, emotional and social development.
    • Biff Ward’s The third chopstick (my review) for its portrayal of an activist who fearlessly confronted those most affected by that activism and/or the war they were protesting.

    While all these books made an impact on me, I also need to say that, overall, the books that most impact me are, really, fiction. That is where the real punches mostly are!

    For those of you doing Nonfiction November, I’ll see your Worldview Changers I’m sure, but, if you’re not, would you like to share any or some of yours?

    Nonfiction November 2022: Stranger than fiction

    Week 3 of Nonfiction November (November 14-18) focuses 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” and is hosted by Christopher (Plucked from the Stacks).

    Last year, introducing my post on this week, I wrote that what the idea of “stranger than fiction” brings to my mind are those coincidences (and the like) that happen in real life that a fiction writer could never get away with. This week’s topic host, Christopher, though, takes a broader view, including things like “overcoming massive obstacles”, “scams” and “natural wonders”. My interpretation is a bit different again.

    I’m starting with an essay I read via the Library of America’s Story of the Week program, James Weldon Johnson’s “Stranger than fiction” (my review). Johnson wrote one of those trickily titled novels, The autobiography of an ex-colored man (1912). It was inspired by his own experiences, and has been described as the first fictional memoir by a black person. Its protagonist is a young unnamed biracial man, who, because of such experiences as witnessing a lynching, decides to “pass” as white for safety and advancement reasons. The novel chronicles his experiences and ambivalent feelings about his decision.

    In 1915, Johnson wrote his essay “Stranger than fiction” about his novel’s reception. To summarise what I wrote in my post, he basically found that for many Northern reviewers, the work was so “real” they could barely believe it was fiction, whereas Southern critics asserted that the work was unbelievable because, Johnson wrote, they didn’t believe African Americans could “pass” as “the slightest tinge of African blood is discernible, if not in the complexion, then in some trait or characteristic betraying inferiority.” For Johnson, this was “laughable”, as most people, he said, know of people who are “passing.”

    There are so many “stranger than fiction” layers to this essay and situation but I will leave it here. This essay would, of course, have been another great Week 2 pairing for me with Nella Larsen’s Passing.

    What can be stranger than families?

    Families, of course, are the stuff of fiction, particularly unhappy ones (as Tolstoy famously shared), but they can also be found in non-fiction, particularly in memoirs, so here I’m going to share three families which were/are strange for one reason or another:

    • Alison Croggon’s Monsters: A reckoning (my review) chronicles a sister-relationship that went badly sour. It’s always sad – and yes, a bit strange to me – when families fall apart. The collapse of siblings relationships is particularly devastating I think.
    • Jane Sinclair’s Shy love smiles and acid drops (my review) chronicles the author’s parents’ difficult relationship. There is much that is “strange” here for most of us, starting with the family’s bohemian lifestyle.
    • Cindy Solonec’s Debesa: The story of Frank and Katie Rodriguez (my review) is strange in a different way. The relationship here is a positive and productive one, but the press release for the book makes its “strangeness” clear when it says the book is about “the unlikely partnership of Cindy’s parents: Frank Rodriguez, once a Benedictine novice monk from Spain, and Katie Fraser, who had been a novitiate in a very different sort of abbey – a convent for ‘black’ women at Beagle Bay Mission” (near Broome). Debesa is also a little strange in form as it is one of those hybrid biography-memoirs in which the writer is part of the family she’s focusing on.

    None of these families are probably stranger than anything you’d find in fiction, but they do prove that the strange families you find in fiction can indeed be realistic!

    For those of you doing Nonfiction November, I’ll see your strange offerings I’m sure, but, if you’re not, I’d love to see what strange nonfiction you’ve read.

    Nonfiction November 2022: Book pairings

    Week 2 of Nonfiction November and hanging in. This meme/blog event/reading month/challenge (what do we call it?) is hosted by several bloggers, with Week 2: (November 7-11) – Book Pairing, being hosted by Rennie (of What’s Nonfiction). The challenge is to pair a nonfiction book with something else – a fiction title, another nonfiction work, or even a podcast, film, documentary, TV show, etc. There just has to be some link in terms of subject matter or topic. I really enjoy this week of the challenge, because it’s such fun to do and is also fun to see what other bloggers come up with.

    The no-brainer

    Since much of my nonfiction involves literary topics – literary biographies or memoirs, for example – this pairing challenge is really very easy. Take, for example, Carmel Bird’s bibliomoir Telltale (my review). There are so pairing possibilities, because in it she discusses books she’s read and written. So, for this year’s no-brainer – I did one last year too – I will pair her bibliomemoir with… Hmm, with what? Because here’s the challenge: she mentions so many books. However, if I limit it to those I’ve reviewed, which is my preference, that narrows the field. And, if I narrow it even more to those books by her that I’ve reviewed, I’m getting to something quite manageable.

    Book cover

    So, after a little consideration, the one I’ve chosen for my pairing is her Field of poppies (my review), because, as I wrote in my post, it has many of the hallmarks of her writing, including “all manner of allusions and digressions, underpinned by a clearly-focused intelligence”. This, of course, we also find in Telltale. Unfortunately, though, I am away from home, so I don ‘t have my copy of Telltale with me to share some of Bird’s comments about this novel. However, I do remember her discussing mining, and how she had referenced it in her work, including in Field of poppies.

    This year I have also read several literary essays, and each of these could be paired with their source novel or story, such as Ellen van Neerven’s essay (my post) on Tara June Winch’s Swallow the air (my review).

    But, rather than list all those, I’d like, as I also did last year, to give myself something that’s more of a pairing challenge, so here is …

    Another pairing

    My most recent nonfiction read was Biff Ward’s part memoir, part social history, The third chopstick: Tracks through the Vietnam War (my review). This book covers both her experience as an antiwar protestor and her later decision to meet and understand the men who went to war – the Vietnam Vets. In those meetings, she comes face-to-face with the traumas (the PTSD) many of them suffered on their return and, with their permission, she shares some of this experience with us.

    Josephine Rowe, A loving faithful animal

    Not a lot of fiction, comparatively speaking anyhow, has been written about this War, as I discussed in my recent Monday Musings – and I’ve read only a little of that. However, I have read a little, and one of those is Josephine Rowe’s A loving, faithful animal (my review), which deals very specifically with PTSD from this war and its intergenerational impact. It’s a strong, and unforgettable novel and worthy of pairing with Biff Ward’s book.

    For those of you doing Nonfiction November, I’ll see your pairings I’m sure, but, if you’re not, I’d love to see what you would pair – if you’d like to play along.

    Six degrees of separation, FROM The naked chef TO …

    Oh my, oh my, I’m becoming one of those people who complains about the weather – but really, we’ve had so much rain in our neck of the woods. It’s proving difficult to get our washing dry, to carry out some necessary house maintenance, and so on. The problem is, though, that I feel embarrassed about complaining, given we have brought so much of this upon ourselves. So, that recognised, I think I’d best just move on … to why we are here, our Six Degrees meme. 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, and in November it is another book I haven’t read, Jamie Oliver’s The naked chef. I don’t have it, but I am forever grateful to Jamie Oliver for teaching Son Gums to cook, through his books and cooking app. Oliver is a wonder. I was impressed with the app.

    Ouyang Yu, Diary of a Naked Official

    So, where to from here? I have in fact posted on a couple of cook books, but I’m not going there. Instead, I’m linking on the word “naked” in the title, and going to Ouyang Yu’s Diary of a naked official (my review). My reason is that this enabled me to link to a book that I haven’t – until now – managed to include in this meme. Ouyang-Yu is a Chinese-born Australian-based writer who has a significant body of work.

    Linda Jaivin, Found in translation Book cover

    Besides writing novels in English, Ouyang Yu translates English (Australian) books into Chinese. My next link is to Linda Jaivin, who not only wrote a Quarterly Essay on translation, Found in translation: In praise of a plural world (my review), but who also does Chinese-English translation, but in the reverse direction to Yu.

    Book Cover

    I have reviewed a handful of Quarterly Essays for this blog, another being Sebastian Smee’s Net loss: The inner life in the digital age (my review). I read this particular issue for my reading group, as the result of a little confusion. We weren’t sure whether we were to read this Quarterly Essay or …

    Penguin collection, translated by Garnett, book cover

    Anton Chekhov’s short story, “The lady with the little dog” (my review). Several of us, myself included, read both. The point was that Smee references Chekhov’s story in his essay, because Chekhov’s Gurov discusses his inner and outer lives. In case you are interested, Gurov argues that the inner life is where “everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people”, and Smee is concerned that in our digital age the “notion of an elusive but somehow sustaining inner self is eroding”.

    Chekhov’s short story has been translated multiple times, and is much anthologised. Another frequently anthologised short story is Shirley Jackson’s “The lottery” (my review). Indeed, I wrote in my post that it is “one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature”.

    Christos Tsiolkas, The slap

    In that post on Jackson’s short story, I also quoted Jackson as saying her story was a “graphic dramatisation of … pointless violence and general inhumanity”, which brings us to my final link, Christos Tsiolkas’ The slap (my review), because I argue that one of its themes is the pervasiveness of violence in western middle-class society.

    This month, we’ve spread our wings wide, visiting England, China, the USA, Russia and Australia. For a rare change, my authors are four males to two females. What came over me! I can’t think of any real way of linking Tsiolkas back to Oliver except to say, perhaps, that both are cool dudes with something to say?

    Now, the usual: Have you read The naked chef? And, regardless, what would you link to?

    Nonfiction November 2022: Your year in nonfiction

    My participation in Nonfiction November is usually a bit catch-as-catch-can – that is, I often don’t manage to complete every week’s topic – but I do like to start off as though I might, so here I am.

    Nonfiction November, as most of you know, is hosted by several bloggers. This year, Week 1 – Your Year in Nonfiction, is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, with the same questions posed for us to consider as last year.

    I’m not sure why, but for this nonfiction-November year (that is, from last December to now), I’ve read about 25% more nonfiction than I read in each of the previous few years that I’ve participated. 45% of this reading has been life-writing, 45% essays, and the rest has been “other” non-fiction.

    What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

    Favourites are always hard to identify, because I tend to get something out of most of what I read. However, if pushed, I’d say Carmel Bird’s Telltale (my review), because bibliomemoirs are always going to appeal to me, and when such a book is written by a favourite writer as Carmel Bird is, then it’s a no-brainer. I loved so much about this book, as my review and follow-up post make obvious.

    Honourable mentions are many, but let me just name three, Gabrielle Carey’s Only happiness here (my review), because I am a fan of its subject, Elizabeth von Arnim; Mark McKenna’s Return to Uluru (my review) because it increased my knowledge of Australia’s history and relationship with our First Nations people; and Jess Hill’s See what you made me do (my review) about domestic abuse, with particular exploration of coercive control, because I learnt a lot about something I thought I already knew quite a bit about.

    Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

    Last year, I wrote in answer to this question that when it comes to nonfiction, my main interests are literary biographies, nature writing, and works about social justice/social history. Nothing has changed in terms of my preferences, but I should add something I didn’t say last time, which is that in terms of nonfiction forms, I do like essays, and there are always a few in my reading diet.

    This year, the greatest proportion of my nonfiction has related to literature in some way. Besides the books by Carmel Bird and Gabrielle Carey mentioned above, I have read several fascinating essays from the anthology edited by Belinda Castles, Reading like an Australian writer. One of my posts from that book was about Emily McGuire’s essay on epiphany in an Elizabeth Harrower short story. It has proved very popular on my blog this year. I’m not sure why but I wonder whether the word “epiphany” has attracted search engine hits?

    What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

    Again, as I wrote last year, this is hard, because with nonfiction, even more than fiction, what you recommend depends greatly on people’s interests. I have, though, recommended all those books I named under my favourite nonfiction book of the year.

    I have also talked much about my most recent read – which is also, really, a “favourite” contender – Biff Ward’s The third chopstick (my post). Given it is about a time my peers and I lived through when we were young, and given it is written with such humanity and heart, it’s natural that I expect to be talking about and recommending it often in the months to come.

    What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?  

    What I am not specifically looking for is more recommendations – not because I am not interested but because I have too many books to read already without adding to the pile (physical and virtual). However, what I always get out of participating in blog events like this is book talk on topics that particularly interest me and, sometimes, meeting new bloggers whose interests are similar to mine (albeit, as with my book piles, I don’t really need more bloggers to follow. I hope that doesn’t sound unkind, but I think many of you understand the quandary! We love the book talk, but it also takes away from the book reading!)

    Besides this, I’m always interested discussing wider issues regarding nonfiction and nonfiction reading: Why do we read nonfiction? What do we look for? What makes a good nonfiction read?

    This year, with us all having come through a pretty tough few years, there’s the question about whether trying times see us seeking more nonfiction that might help us understand what we are going through or less because we want to escape into an imaginative world. What do you think?