Books given and received for Christmas, in 2019 – sorta

Regular readers here will know that on my Boxing Day I usually publish a post on the books I gave and received for Christmas. However, this year I’m doing something different. I’ve just read a link that Paula (Book Jotter) posted in her latest Wind-up Post. It’s from The Guardian and is about the challenges of book gift giving. If you give books, as most of you are sure to, you will have confronted or considered the issues involved, so I thought I’d share them and, along the way, include some of the books I gave or received this year.

Elle Hunt, who wrote the article titled “I thought you’d like to read this”, writes that books as gifts are “thought to be less personal than jewellery, but far more telling of the giver (and what they think of the recipient) than anything that comes in a turquoise box from Tiffany. Not to mention infinitely more likely to be passed on.” She then offers a few rules:

  • always save the receipt, the reason being that if you have chosen a book you’ve thought to be the perfect present for someone, so probably have others. Fortunately, my mother had saved the receipt for the book she gave me this Christmas, Helen Garner’s Yellow notebook, because I already have it (albeit as a review copy, not a gift.)
  • never write an inscription in a book, unless you’ve written it yourself. Do you write inscriptions? I used to once, but gave it up long ago, because it does mean the book can’t be returned (or re-gifted), if the recipient has it. The article discusses the pros and cons of this issue, from different angles, but the suggestion is that it’s probably safer to write your sentiment in a card.
  • Book coverchoose for the recipient rather than what you think they should read! Now this, to me, is a no-brainer. Surely the aim is to give your recipient something they’ll enjoy and remember you fondly for! I’m really hoping my toddler grandson likes Pamela Allen’s Mr McGee. And I was very confident that my lexicographer-grammarian mother would like John Sutherland’s How good is your grammar. The article notes that giving books can signal your own taste, and touches on the pros and cons of this and of giving books you love. It suggests if you can’t overcome the influence of your ego when choosing books, ask the advice of a knowledgeable (often independent) bookseller! Good suggestion. This year, as in most years, I gave some books that I’ve loved – like Tim Winton’s The shepherd’s hut to Son Gums and Amanda O’Callaghan’s This taste for silence to Brother Gums’ partner – because I think the recipients will like them. But, I have also given books I haven’t read, for the same reason. Horses for courses, as they say.

Others have written on the subject too, like the Book Riot blog back in 2015. Their “10 Rules for Book Giving” post takes a slightly different tack, including offering a few suggestions on how to find out what books your recipient might like, particularly if that person is a non reader. Hmm … given their first rule is “don’t be an evangelist” for a book you’ve loved and give it to everyone “regardless of whether they’re interested in it or not”, I’m not sure we should be going there? Do you want to antagonise the non-reader, do you want to guilt them? I think there are better times to encourage non-readers than at gift-giving time, but maybe that’s just me! (Of course, I’m not talking about babies here: give them books, books, and more books I say, so they are readers from the beginning.)

Book coverThe Huffington Post also wrote on the topic in 2012, “How to pick just the right book gift”. The writer Roxanne Coady starts by commenting on the trend towards gift cards. “I get the ease and even the appeal,” she writes, but then suggests that “it results in missing an opportunity. The perfect gift to receive or give is one that reflects an understanding, an appreciation, or a quirk of someone. In the razzle dazzle of the pace of our lives, why miss the opportunity to show someone that you took the time to think of them — took the time to think of what might delight or surprise them?” Yes, there it is, the most important thing to me about gift-giving – showing someone that you took the time to think of them and to think about “what might delight or surprise them”. I’m sure this was behind Brother Gums’ gift to me, a book of poetry and paintings, The voice of water by Adrienne Eberhard and Sue Lovegrove. Brother Gums loves to promote Tasmanian culture – and this book is by Tasmanians – but he also knows that I love beautiful books that are a little different from those I usually read. You will hear more about this book in the coming weeks.

Like the writers of two previous articles, Coady also suggests asking booksellers for advice as an option, but she makes some other interesting observations, of which the most interesting to me was to take into account your relationship with the recipient. What an excellent point. Even if you think you know someone’s likes or tastes, you might want to think about the message you are sending about yourself and/or about what you think of them in the book you choose – see Elle Hunt above. This could be a minefield, if the relationship is not a close one.

So, what about you? Do you follow any rules or practices when choosing books as gifts? Or, do you think the gift card is a safer option?

Books given and received for Christmas, in 2018

In what is becoming a Boxing Day tradition – I have many end-of-year traditions it seems – I am doing, again, a post on the books I gave and received this Christmas. There weren’t many as it’s becoming hard to pick the right books for people, somehow, even though we are a reading family.

Robert Drewe, The true colour of the seaHere are the books I gave:

  • For Ma Gums, something different from the word and dictionary oriented books of recent years: Robert Drewe’s short story. collection, The true colour of the sea, because she enjoys a good short story.
  • For Son Gums, who likes something a bit humorous or edgy: Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer prize-winner Less.
  • For new Grandson Gums, who is going to love books whether he likes it or not, a few books including Alison Lester’s Kissed by the moon.
  • For Brother Gums: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday black, because it’s hard to find something he hasn’t read and I was hoping this would be that thing!
  • For Sister-in-law Gums: Sukegawa’s Sweet bean paste, because a bit of sweetness is just what the doctor ordered.
  • For the other Sister-in-Law Gums: Sukegawa’s Sweet bean paste, because she enjoys Asian literature.
  • For Gums’ Californian friend, to whom I always like to send something Aussie: Michelle de Kretser’s The life to come (my review), because I think many of its issues are universal to other Western nations.

Deborah Hopkinson, Ordinary, extraordinary Jane AustenAs for what I received, a small but much appreciated selection:

  • From Parent Gums: Trent Dalton’s Boy swallows universe, because I put it on my list as it’s my reading group’s next read.
  • From Brother and Sister-in-law Gums: Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic, because my bother loved it and thinks I will too.
  • From a good friend who knows me well: Deborah Hopkinson’s gorgeous children’s picture book biography Ordinary, extraordinary Jane Austen: The story of six novels, three notebooks, a writing box, and one clever girl, because, well, that’s obvious isn’t it!

What about you? Any Christmas book news you care to report?

Carson McCullers, Home for Christmas (#Review)

Carson McCullers, 1959

Carson McCullers, 1959 (photo by Carl Van Vechten, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

As you will guess from the title of this Library of America (LOA) Story of the Week, I meant to post on it closer to Christmas Day than I have in fact achieved. I chose it for two reasons – firstly the obvious seasonal one, and secondly because my first Carson McCullers post was an unusual piece and perhaps not completely reflective of the writer she was. Her story “Home before Christmas”, while nothing like her best-known novels, does get us a bit closer to them.

First, though, some background. LOA’s notes tell us that the story, written in 1949, was the first of a few essays McCullers wrote for magazines like Mademoiselle and Redbook. McCullers’ biographer, Virginia Spencer Carr, says, according to LOA, that “even as a preschooler Carson would be asked what she wanted and the answer was, ‘I want book—lots of books, Mama’.” I suspect many of you reading this will say the same about yourselves. I know I would!

LOA shares a couple of other stories about the adult Carson and gift-giving – including one that resulted in such a kerfuffle that someone was written out of a will, and another involving Truman Capote. However, they take us further away from the point of THIS story.

“Home for Christmas” was apparently commissioned by Mademoiselle for its 1949 Christmas issue, and was published alongside pieces by food writer MFK Fisher and novelist Jessamyn West (whom I plan to cover here one day via the Library of America). LOA chose to share McCullers’ piece this last Christmas because 2017 was the centenary of McCullers birth.

Now I said in my opening paragraph that this story, although nothing like her best-known novels, does connect us a little with them. Firstly, an autobiographical piece, it describes life in a southern family, but more significantly, like The member of the wedding, it is seen through a child’s eye. It is not like her novels in the sense that it is not Gothic, and nor does it deal in any major way with the loneliness or “outsiderness” that I remember from her oeuvre – though there is a touch of melancholy in it, all the same.

In some ways, it’s a traditional story about childhood yearning for Christmas. It begins in August with our young first person narrator, that is, Carson, pondering Christmas, and it concludes, just after Christmas, with her yearning for the next Christmas. In between, we hear about the buying of Christmas presents, the cooking of Christmas food, and how Christmas day itself was spent. But, there is also a little unifying theme running through this – the “mystery of Time”.

In the second paragraph, it is August and our narrator is up a tree thinking:

I did not want to talk with my brother. I was experiencing the first wonder about the mystery of Time. Here I was, on this August afternoon, in the tree-house, in the burnt, jaded yard, sick and tired of all our summer ways. (I had read Little Women for the second time, Hans Brinker and the Silver SkatesLittle Men, and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. I had read movie magazines and even tried to read love stories in the Woman’s Home Companion—I was so sick of everything.) How could it be that I was I and now was now when in four months it would be Christmas, wintertime, cold weather, twilight and the glory of the Christmas tree? I puzzled about the now and later and rubbed the inside of my elbow until there was a little roll of dirt between my forefinger and thumb. Would the now I of the tree-house and the August afternoon be the same I of winter, firelight and the Christmas tree? I wondered.

You can see biographer Carr’s point about books can’t you? Anyhow, again, I suspect many of us have pondered Time in this way. McCullers doesn’t labour the point but it pops up a few more times in the article,  including the notion of time behaving differently for different people. “How”, she writes, “could it be that when she [her sister] opened her eyes it would be Christmas while I lay awake in the dark for hours and hours? The time was the same for both of us, and yet not at all the same.” There’s also a delightful little – almost throwaway – line about how her father would manipulate the clocks to enable them to get up early on Christmas morning but not too early for the parents.

“Home before Christmas” is not a particularly deep story/article, but then as an article for a Christmas edition of a magazine, it probably wasn’t meant to be. It is, however, an enjoyable read and, while presumably part of that bread-and-butter work that writers do to survive, it also provides some insight into a significant writer of, and from, America’s south.

Carson McCullers
“Home for Christmas”
First published: Mademoiselle, December 1949
Available: Online at the Library of America

Books given and received for Christmas, in 2017

Claire G Coleman, Terra NulliusIn what is becoming a Boxing Day tradition – I have many traditions it seems at the end of the year – I am doing, again, a post on the books I gave and received this Christmas.

  • For Ma Gums, who has worked as a lexicographer, another word-oriented book (giving her such books is becoming another tradition!): Ann Patty’s Living with a dead language: My romance with Latin. My mum loved Latin at school and how it’s helped her with language throughout her now long life. I hope she likes this book.
  • For Daughter Gums, who reads widely but perhaps less so in the classics: A classic Australian, Christina Stead’s Little hotel.
  • For Brother Gums, who reads broadly, including keeping up with new Aussie releases: Robert Drewe’s latest, Whipbird, which was recently reviewed favourably by Lisa (ANZLitLovers).
  • For Sister-in-law Gums, who’s always interested in diverse authors and subjects, another recent Aussie book: Claire Coleman’s Terra nullius.
  • For Gums’ Californian friend, to whom I always like to send something Aussie: Stephanie Buckle’s short story collection, Habits of silence (my review). Not only is it a great read that appeals particularly, I think, to older readers, but it’s also a light one to post!

Peter Carey, A long way from hereAs for what I received, a varied but a much appreciated bunch:

  • From Parent Gums: Three books, because, strangely, they know I like to read. What a bonanza: Peter Carey’s A long way from here, Michelle de Kretser’s The life to come, and W. Bruce Cameron’s A dog’s way home.
  • From Son and Daughter Gums, who heard about my reading group schedule: Claire Coleman’s Terra nullius and Richard Flanagan’s First person. (I think I’m set for our next schedule now. I just have to find time to read them now.)
  • From Brother and Sister-in-law Gums, who, I’m pleased to say, usually give me books from their southern state: Rachel Leary’s novel Bridget Crack, which has been getting some good reviews around the blogs, and Tasmanian poet Robyn Mathison’s gorgeous little poetry collection Still bravely singing. I love reading books from our southern state.
  • From my Californian friend who gave me Viet Thanh Nguyen’s wonderful Pulitzer prize-winning The sympathizer last year: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s follow-up book The refugees, which fits beautifully into what seems to be my current reading trend, stories about displacement.
  • From a Jane Austen group member who organised a lucky dip of her duplicates at our end-of year-plus-Jane’s-birthday-celebration. An inspired idea – at least we all thought so (!): Paula Byrne’s Jane Austen: A life in small things. I have been tempted to buy this book several times, so am thrilled to have a copy.
  • From my now Octogenarian volunteer from my working days, with whom I keep in contact for semi-regular lunches: A gift voucher from a bookshop. Woo-hoo!

What about you? Any Christmas book news you care to report

Books given and received for Christmas, in 2016

I did a “books given and received post” last Boxing Day, and decided to do it again, but after Boxing Day because this year Boxing Day coincided with Monday Musings, and I have another tradition for the last Monday Musings of the year. Anyhow, here goes with the books I gave and received this Christmas. There are not so many of them this year, for some reason.

  • Robyn Cadwallader, The anchoressFor Ma Gums, who has worked as a lexicographer, yet another word-oriented book: John Simpson, The word detective: Searching for the meaning of it all at the Oxford English Dictionary, which I bought on spec when I saw it in the National Library’s bookshop (I think). Simpson was once chief editor of the OED. Next year I really will have to get her something different.
  • For Brother Gums, an historian who loves walking: Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, as the result of Stefanie’s (So Many Books) review. It even mentions Lizzie Bennet apparently.
  • For Sister-in-law Gums, who likes to think about things: The best Australian science writing of 2016 . I loved (my review) the 2015 edition so I’m hoping she will like this. (I was tempted to keep it for myself!) And SNAP, in one of those wonderful readerly coincidences, Brother and Sister-in-law Gums gave this book to Mr Gums – so I will now have an opportunity to read it after all!
  • For Gums’ Californian friend, who showed interest when I told her about this book in a letter: Robyn Cadwallader’s The anchoress (my review).
  • For Gums’ Californian friend’s daughter, who’s just finished her law degree and might be interested in some Aussie crime: Peter Temple’s The broken shore.
  • For Gums’ Californian friend’s other daughter, who is interested in things factual and, I think, scientific: The best Australian science writing of 2016. (This book did well this Christmas in our neck of the woods.)

I did do a little shopping to help out Ma Gums, and bought on her behalf for her grand-daughter, aka Daughter Gums, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The hate race. (I’m hoping that I might get to read it too!)

As for what I received, a varied but much appreciated bunch:

  • From Parents Gum: Grahame Greene’s Travels with my aunt, because they knew that it’s on my reading group list for next year. They’re not silly: they know this is one book they’ve given me which they can be confident will get read within a reasonable time of their giving it to me.
  • From Brother and Sister-in-law Gums, who know my interest in indigenous Australian culture: Kanalaritja: An unbroken string: Honouring the tradition of Tasmanian Aboriginal shell stringing, supporting a touring exhibition (and, to go with it, an original, authentic – and gorgeous – shell string necklace.) A beautiful gift.
  • From my Californian friend, who reads my blog and with whom I correspond regularly by snail mail, and who, therefore, knows my reading taste well: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer prize-winning The sympathizer. A commenter on my review of Josephine Rowe’s A loving, faithful animal recommended this book, as did the present-giver in a letter, so I’m very pleased to have it.
  • From a Jane Austen group member (a lovely out-of-the-blue present): Helena Kelly’s Jane Austen: The secret radical. This sounds intriguing, and I can see that the first couple of chapters on Northanger Abbey will come in useful when my group discusses this, Austen’s first novel, in 2017.

Jane Austen ornament and pendantsAnd I also received a couple of other book related gifts from friends who know me too well: a pendant necklace with a quote from Jane Austen’s Pride and prejudice,”I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading”; and two gorgeous Jane Austen tree ornaments (a silhouette and a little figure). It pays, sometimes, to have obsessive interests!!

What about you? Any Christmas book news you care to report?

Books given and received for Christmas, in 2015

I did a “books given and received post” last Boxing Day, and decided to do it again. It’s a useful record for me to keep, and may just interest you, so, here goes.

  • For Mr Gums, who is often up for a walk: Walking and cycling Canberra’s Centenary Trail
  • For Ms Gums Jr, in her stocking: Anna Funder’s The girl with the dogs.
  • For Mr Gums Jr, in his stocking: Richard Flanagan’s Short Black The Australian Disease: On the Decline of Love and the Rise of Non-Freedom.
  • For Ma Gums, who has worked as a lexicographer: Mary Norris’s Between you and me: Confessions of a comma queen (inspired by a review by Stefanie at So Many Books) AND, in her stocking, Elizabeth Gaskell’s The old nurse’s story.
  • For Brother Gums, lover of nature and good writing: Tim Winton’s Land edge: A coastal memoir
  • For Sister-in-law Gums, who loves art, nature and is interested in women’s lives: Louisa Atkinson’s nature notes (a selection of sketches and writings by this nineteenth century Australian naturalistDanielle Wood, Mothers Grimm, book cover.
  • For Gums’ Californian friend, who indicated in a comment on my post that she’d like to read this book: Danielle Wood’s Mothers Grimm.
  • For Gums’ Californian friend’s daughter, who’s busy studying for her law degree and might like some little interludes: Paul McDermott’s Fragments of the hole (my review) and Cassandra Atherton’s Trace (two fl smalls).
  • For Gums’ Californian friend’s other daughter, who’s developing quite a passion for baking: Delicious Bake.

As for what I received, a lovely, eclectic bunch:

  • From Ma and Pa Gums: Elizabeth Harrower’s In certain circles, in readiness for my reading group doing it in 2016) and Betty Churcher’s The forgotten notebook (about trips she made in the 1990s arranging loans of art of a blockbuster exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia).
  • From my Californian friend, who knows what my New Year’s resolution is going to be: Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (oh dear, now I’m really going to have to do it). Carolyn, that’s her name, wrote about it in her letters this year and, quite coincidentally, I read about the same book in Travellin’ Penguin’s blog. The title is slightly different but that’s just different editions I believe. She and Carolyn did make me laugh with their discussions of applying this book to their own decluttering projects.
  • From “old” Canberra friends: Tom Griffiths’ Endurance, historical fiction about photographer/explorer Frank Hurley (and they gave us a book gift voucher too. Lucky, us).

What about you? Any Christmas book news you care to report?

Books given and received for Christmas

Here at the Gums, we like of course to give and receive books for Christmas. Like you, I’m sure, I love choosing books for those I love, albeit tinged with a little anxiety. Have they read it? Will they like it? That doesn’t stop we readers giving it a go though does it? Anyhow, just in case you’d like to hear what decisions I made this year, here goes.

  • For Ms Gums Jr, who loves poetry: Owen Musa’s Parang
  • For Mr Gums Jr, who enjoys humour: Simon Rich’s Spoiled brats (with thanks to one of those end-of-year lists, in The Guardian I think!)
  • For Ma Gums, who has worked as a lexicographer: Paul Dickson’s Authorisms: Words wrought by writers
  • For Aunt Gums, who likes a nice English writer: Joanna Trollope’s Balancing act
  • For Brother Gums, historian and lover of good writing of all kinds: Best Australian essays 2014 (but unfortunately, as I feared, someone else had a similar bright idea so it’s back to the drawing board for this one!)
  • For Sister-in-law Gums, who’s always up for something different: Jane Rawson’s (recent MUBA award-winner) A wrong turn at the office of unmade lists
  • For Gums’ Californian friend, who teaches Japanese: Mark Henshaw’s The snow kimono (and I hope she doesn’t read this before she opens her parcel)
  • For Gums’ Californian friend’s daughter, who likes a good mystery: Mark Henshaw’s In the line of fire
  • For Gums’ Californian friend’s daughter (yes she has two), who reads widely and, I believe, also enjoys a bit of commentary: Kill Your Darlings #19

POSTSCRIPT: I returned Best Australian Stories 2014 and decided to go more local for Bro Gums – Julian Davies’ Crow mellow.

And while we are at it, I also gave copies of Australian love stories edited by Cate Kennedy for two late-in-the-year birthdays.

As for what I received, well, they are an intriguing and wonderfully eclectic bunch:

  • From Ma and Pa Gums: Don Watson’s The bush: Travels in the heart of Australia. Woo hoo – I was hoping Santa or someone would bring this!
  • From Mr Gums Jr, who knows I’ll give something new a go: Vivek Tiwary and and Andrew Robinson’s graphic novel The fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein story. Love the out-of-left-fieldedness of this.
  • From Bro and SIL Gums, who live in Tasmania and can be relied upon to give me something by a Tasmanian writer: Danielle Wood’s Mothers Grimm, which reworks four fairy stories from the point of view of mothers and sounds right up my alley!

Humbook Christmas Gift to Stu of Winston’s Dad

I squeezed in at the last moment! What, you ask, did I squeeze into? Well, the Humbook Christmas Gift exchange. This is a virtual gift exchange that Guy Savage (of His Futile Preoccupations) and Emma (of Book Around The Corner) did last year. They enjoyed it so much they decided to invite their blogging friends join in this year. And so, I did – with thanks to Lisa of ANZLitLovers who tweeted the suggestion that I pair with Stu of Winston’s Dad. I jumped at the chance – with the secret hope that Stu might “gift” me a couple of translated books.  Fortunately for me, Stu was happy to be my copinaute …

… and so here I am, on Christmas Day, sending Stu my gift. But, shh … he’s probably still asleep over there on the other side of the world. Please don’t tell him what I’ve got him. I want it to be a surprise.

Is this making sense? No? Well, the idea is that I choose two books that I think Stu will like and post it here on my blog. Stu will do the same for me (when he gets up!*). My job then is to find copies of the books Stu has chosen for me, read them, and review them. But, as Emma and Guy reassure us, there’s no Humbook Police out there making us read the chosen books. It’s up to us … just like it is with any Christmas book we receive.

So, what did I choose for Stu? I didn’t of course want to select something he’d read so I checked his blog and it seems he’s read two Australian novels, since he started blogging anyhow, Christos TsiolkasThe slap and Tim Winton‘s Breath. I thought it might be interesting to choose an older book and a recent one, and I wanted to choose one written by a woman and one by a man.  Now, because I don’t want to keep poor Stu waiting any longer, here are my two “gifts” for him:

  • Joan London‘s Gilgamesh: This book, published in 2001, won The Age Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. I’ve recommended it to a few non-Aussies and they’ve liked it. I love this book for its language and mesmerising tone. It starts – in England, in fact (hello Stu!) – near the end of the first world war, and then moves to Western Australia, and then to Europe. It’s about place, dislocation, and the old meeting the new. It’s a reflective sort of novel. I think Stu will like it. Of course, the challenge with books of a certain age is availability, but I’ve checked The Book Depository and they have it. Phew!
  • Nam Le‘s The boat: I struggled about my second choice. I considered David Malouf, Murray Bail, Patrick White, Gerald Murnane, or the crime writer Peter Temple. I nearly chose Elliot Perlman’s The street sweeper, but I decided to go with something contemporary and have chosen the young Vietnamese-Australian author, Nam Le, and his book of short stories, The boat. Interestingly, like the novel I selected, it is not all set in Australia. In fact most of it is set elsewhere but I think Stu will be tickled by the fact that it’s been translated into many languages. The first story has autobiographical elements, and the last story draws on his father’s experience as a “boat person”.

Somehow I’ve chosen books I read before I started blogging, which is a shame in a way as I can’t share my reviews, but I think they make good introductions for Stu to the breadth of Australian writing. I hope he enjoys them.

Merry Christmas Stu from Down Under! Thanks for being happy to be my copinaute in this exchange. I look forward to seeing what you come up with for me … and will do my best to read them.

* Actually, when Stu gets up he’ll probably open his “real” presents and take Winston for a walk. Like me, he’s sure to have scheduled his post containing my “gifts” a while ago.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Last minute Aussie lit shopping ideas

Wrapped Gift (Courtesy OCAL, via

Wrapped Gift (Courtesy OCAL, via

This is not my post on 2012 reading highlights … that will come at the end of the year … but, with Christmas just a week away, I thought I’d offer up some Aussie lit suggestions for your lovers-of-literature friends. Some of these may be tricky to find at this short notice – and these are by no means the only great bookish gift ideas – but I’m throwing them out there anyhow, so here goes.

For the Patrick White lover (or the Patrick White virgin): Patrick White’s Happy Valley. Published for the first time since its original publication, as part of the new Text Classics series, this is a treasure. I haven’t finished it yet, and it will be a little while before I get to write up a review, but nearly halfway in I can see why Grahame Greene described is as “one of the most mature first novels in recent years”. As I’m reading it, I’m pondering what is it that makes great writing, writing that makes you go “ah, how can something so simple sound so good”. I haven’t worked it out yet, but I’m enjoying the challenge … This is a book that belies the fear that White is hard. He’s not, not really … and for a Patrick White virgin Happy Valley is a highly accessible read and a good introduction to White’s concerns.

For a gift that will last all year: a subscription to the new-ish literary magazine, Kill Your Darlings. This is a gorgeous publication to hold, easy to carry around to read in those spare moments, and is also available in electronic version. This is just one of several Australian literary magazines around, and others would do the job I’m sure, but I am partial to this little publication.

For the person who’s a little scared of poetry: Suzanne Edgar’s Love procession from Gininderra Press. Poet Melinda Smith has said that “If a poem can’t speak to a person of ordinary intelligence without the help of a literature academic, the poet isn’t doing a proper job.” I defy anyone to argue that Edgar, in this often wry sometimes sad collection, isn’t doing her job.

For the indie supporting reader: a book from one of our wonderful SPUNC publishers, such as a Nigel Featherstone novella from Blemish books, or a “long story short” collection like Irma Gold’s Two steps forward from Affirm Press, or Francesca Rendle-Short’s Bite your tongue from Spinifex Press, or … well, if you want more ideas, just go to the SPUNC site and see what you can find.

For the non-fiction reader: Anna Funder’s Stasiland. A few years old now, I admit, and there has been some great non-fiction published this year. But it took me a long time to get to read Stasiland and now I have I’m like a born-again! I want everyone to read it! And, you never know, if you’re on a budget and are happy to give a secondhand book, then this could be a goer.

And last, but definitely not least …

For the gift-giver running out of time: think electronic! Many of the ideas I’ve listed above can be acquired in electronic version because this seems to be the year that Australian publishers – of journals and of books – embraced electronic publishing big time. Australian works can be found through a range of outlets – both local (online bookshops and publisher’s own sites) and international (like Amazon).

So, it’s not too late to wow someone in your circle with a great piece of Australian literature … but it will be soon if you don’t get onto it now. Happy shopping!

The gift of words

Xmas Tree

There be words in there

Middle age has come
and all the plans and needs
are chaff not seeds,
blowing down the blue air
to fall flat and trampled
by some window where
a hopeful girl braids
her thick hair and hums.

(“Humble”, by Ginny Jackson)

Better late than … hmm, perhaps not, but I’m going to tell you anyhow.

I’ve noticed in recent years that I don’t receive a lot of books for Christmas – and when I do, they are often not fiction – but a few hardy gift-givers still bravely feed my obsession. And so, I received a small but intriguing bunch this year, which I will list by category:


  • Margaret Atwood‘s The year of the flood. Atwood is one of my favourite writers but I’ve dropped the baton on her a bit in recent years. I hope to pick it up again and run this year with this, her most recent. Thanks, Mum.
  • Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s last stand. I have already read and reviewed this one – and suggested at the time that there were people I knew who would enjoy it. I didn’t have a copy then so couldn’t lend it to them. I now do … thanks Sandra, from my bookgrouplist swap.


  • Ginny Jackson’s The still deceived. I can always rely on my brother to choose something a little bit different for me, and this year was no exception. My brother lives in Tasmania and this book, published by Ginninderra Press, is by a Tasmanian poet/artist. I have only dipped into it – but if you like the poem opening this post you might like to dip into it too. Thanks, bro!
  • There’s something about a rose. I knew immediately who chose this book – my Dad, the rose lover. It comprises a selection of poems and art celebrating, yes, roses, and was compiled by the Friends of Old Parliament House Rose Gardens. The poems are by Australian poets, some well-known, such as Barbara Blackman, Les Murray and Chris Wallace-Crabbe, and others not so well known (to me at least). I have already dipped into and enjoyed several of the poems…and may share some with you as the year goes on. Thanks, Dad.


  • The Canberra gardener. I’ve had previous editions of this gardening bible, but not for some years. Published by the Horticultural Society of Canberra, this one is the 10th edition published in 2010. The previous edition was published in 2004, just as our last serious drought was starting to bite. As a result, this new edition focuses on how to create lovely gardens with less water. Funnily enough, our dams are now suddenly full (last year they were at 50%) but we have all learnt (if we didn’t already know it) that Australia is a dry continent and that we should make water conservation a permanent goal regardless of annual fluctuations in water levels. This book will help me in my endeavour. Thanks, Carmel.
  • Roger McDonald‘s Australia’s wild places. I do like a good coffee table book and this is a good coffee table book. It’s published by the National Library of Australia and comprises landscape photographs of Australia from the Library’s collection. The photos were chosen by award-winning Australian novelist, Roger McDonald, whose books tend to have strong rural themes. The book has an introductory essay, with a strong environment message, by McDonald, followed by gorgeous images by some of our top photographers, including Peter Dombrovskis and Frank Hurley. It is just the book for me to look at now, as we prepare for our annual foray into the Snowy Mountains for a bit of post-Christmas R&R. It was given to me by a friend who spent most of her career working with these images. Thanks, Sylvia.

So, there you have it, six books from six people, each book reflecting a little bit of both the giver and the receiver. What more can one ask of a gift?

And now, if it’s not too late, I’d love to hear if any of you received books this year, and what they were.