Six degrees of separation, FROM Turn of the screw TO …

One month into spring here down under, and it is so lovely, particularly with daylight savings starting tomorrow. That will hopefully mean not being woken at 5am by sun and birdsong, much as I enjoy the latter! Now though, onto today’s business, this month’s Six Degrees of Separation meme.  As always, if you don’t know this meme and how it works, please check out meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

Once again, the starting book is one I haven’t read, though I have read and enjoyed several books by Henry James. The book is his Turn of the screw. Published in 1898, it’s a classic Gothic mystery featuring a young governess, in a country house.

Louise Mack, Girls together

I was tempted to go with governesses for my first link, but decided to do something different and go with year of publication. Louise Mack’s Girls together (my review) is a little known Australian coming-of-age novel that was also published in 1898. Commencing as a school story, it’s about protagonist Lennie’s transition from self-focused girlhood to adulthood and its associated more mature world-view. Her life and choices are paralleled to those of her friend, Mabel.

Book cover

Another book which starts with young girls who meet at school – at Vassar College in fact – is Mary McCarthy’s The group (my review). In this case, however, we are talking eight girls, and we follow them through many years of their post-school life.

Book cover

My next link will be obvious to Australians as it is a book which talks about a group of women friends at the other end of their lives – that is, women in their 70s. The book is Charlotte Wood’s The weekend (my review).

Book cover

While the main focus of Wood’s book is the women, there is another important character, Finn, the aging dog. He doesn’t have a voice in the novel, but a dog who does is Maf the dog in Scottish writer Andrew O’Hagan’s The life and opinions of Man the dog and of his friend Marilyn Monroe (my review). Phew that’s a title, but it was, as I recollect, an enjoyable book!

Book cover

And here is where I get to the point I really wanted to get to because today, Saturday 3 October, is National Bookshop Day in Australia (or, it seems, now called Love Your Bookshop Day). You may be wondering how I am going to link to this? Well, Marilyn Monroe, as you probably know, was a big reader, so I’m linking to author Ann Patchett’s essay, The bookshop strikes back (my review). I reckon Marilyn Monroe would have loved this little book had she still been with us.

Book cover

To strengthen this post’s tribute to bookshops, I’m sticking with them for my final link. Ann Patchett, as you also know I’m sure, is an independent bookshop owner as well as an award-winning novelist. I included her in my post on author-run bookshops last National Bookshop Day. Another bookshop-owning author I listed in that post was Louise Erdrich, so it’s her The bingo palace (my review) that I’m using for my final link.

Although I didn’t intend it, I’ve stuck very much to anglo-speaking countries this month – Australia, Great Britain and the USA. Moreover, all my authors but one, this month, were women. Not wonderfully diverse then! However, on the plus side, I did manage to work in a tribute to reading and bookshops, because initially I’d headed off in a different direction.

And just so you know, my favourite fabulous bookshops here are:

Now, the usual: Have you read Turn of the screw?And, regardless, what would you link to? And, this month, a bonus question: Would you, wherever you are, like to give a little shout-out to your favourite independent bookshop?

National Bookshop Day 2019

Time for another National Bookshop Day, given my last posts were in 2013 and 2012. In those posts I named some of my favourite Canberra bookshops, particularly the National Library Bookshop, Paperchain and Beyond Q (secondhand booksellers). They are still among my favourites, but, since then, two more excellent bookshops have opened, Muse (which runs Festival Muse about which I’ve written several times) and Harry Hartog Booksellers. Both these stores sell new and secondhand books, making them extra special. What great choice we have in Canberra!

Staff picks shelf

Staff picks at Book Face

This bookshop day, I may not get to a bookshop, as I’ll be on the road between Sydney and Mollymook, so I’m including pictures from one we visited this week in Port Macquarie. I hadn’t heard of Book Face before, but the website explains that it is “a small group of local, independent bookstores whose first store opened its doors in November 2014. Owned by Paul and Leo Berkelouw”. If you don’t know the Berkelouws, and are interested in them, check out the family’s two-century plus history of bookselling on the Berkelouw website.

Book shelves at Book Face

Shelf section in Book Face, Port Macquarie

Book Face is an inviting smallish bookshop, with a lovely little cafe at its entrance. (You know how I love Muse with its excellent restaurant!) We enjoyed wandering about its bookshelves – and facing out Nigel Featherstone’s Bodies of men while doing so! Never let a chance go by is my motto when seeing Aussie authors in bookshops. Pleasingly, a couple of other Aussies (Trent Dalton and Peggy Frew) were already face out (as you might see in the pic). It was also heartening to see some Aussie authors in the little display of staff picks on the shop’s counter. Good one Book Face.

And now, for something completely different …

Author-owned bookshops

I don’t know of many Australian author-owned bookshops but there are several in the USA. Here’s a list of those I know (in alphabetical order by author name):

  • Judy Blume’s Books & Books, Key West, Fl (opened 2016): Blume, of course, is an extremely popular writer of children’s and young adult books. Her shop is a not-for-profit centre “that provides studio space for local artists, a residency program for visiting artists, galleries, and classes” as well as selling books.
  • Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark Books and Native Arts, Minneapolis, Mn (opened 2010): Erdrich (whom I’ve reviewed recently) opened this small independent bookstore with her daughters. It specialises in Native American literature, has “indigenous-language guides, literature and crafts, alongside the latest best sellers”, and a toy-filled play area!
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights, San Francisco, Ca (opened 1953): Ferlinghetti, an American poet who turned 100 this year, opened his store and publishing company with college friend, Peter Dean Martin. The shop was aligned with their left-leaning politics and aimed to “break literature out of its stuffy, academic cage”. The current manager says that they don’t sell or publish bestsellers!
  • Jeff Kinney’s An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Mass (opened 2015): Kinney is the author of the very popular Wimpy Kid books. The article announcing his shop’s establishment explains his aim as being to help the book trade. He plans to be somewhat hands-on, including offering cartooning workshops at the store. It has a healthy cafe too!
  • Exterior of Alison Lester Gallery BookshopAlison Lester Gallery/Bookshop, Fish Creek, Vic (opened 2014): Lester is a popular Australian children’s picture book author and illustrator. Her shop, unlike the others I’ve included here, only sells her own books and art work, but as she’s the only Australian author-owner I could find, and the only one of the shops that I’ve visited, I’m including it!
  • Jonathan Lethem’s Red Gap Books, Blue Hill, Me (opened 2009): American novelist Lethem is co-owner of this used books shop, which is named for a 1935 film, Ruggles of Red Gap, loved by the shop’s owners!
  • Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up, Archer, Texas (est. orig. in Washington DC, 1970): Bestselling author of Lonesome Dove and other books, McMurtry sells used books. The Archer store is apparently one of the largest used bookstores in the USA. McMurtry is quoted on the site as saying “Few books are rare; we have handled only a handful in 44 years in the trade. But many books are attractive. Customers come to us from wherever the four winds blow.” Love it.
  • Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tn (opened 2011): Award-winning novelist of books like Bel canto, Patchett is co-owner of Parnassus Books, which the two women established when Nashville suddenly lost both its bookstores. You can read the story (with links to more) on the shop’s website. It’s all about two passionate people believing they could do what corporations couldn’t or wouldn’t in Nashville!
  • Emma Straub’s Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, NY (opened 2017): Unknown-to-me novelist and short story writer Straub opened this shop with her husband, largely because their local bookshop had closed. (Rather like Patchett.) Like many of the bookshops I’ve listed, this offers author events and is keen to engage the local community. Straub says that their “bookselling philosophy is that books are magic. And that we are nonjudgmental and we aim to be encouraging.”

I’ll leave you with Ann Patchett’s passionate statement about books bookshops and social change:

Amazon doesn’t get to make all the decisions; the people can make them, by choosing how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book. This is how we change the world: We grab hold of it. We change ourselves.

Couldn’t say it better myself.

Now, can you add to the list? From anywhere in the world?

My literary week (13), it’s (mostly) all about Aussies

This last week or so we’ve been on the road again, severely cutting into my reading time, but literary things have been happening, nonetheless.

National Bookshop Day, 2018

Readings Kids, Carlton

Readings Kids, Carlton

Yesterday, August 10th, was, as many of you know, National Bookshop Day and I did, in fact, visit a bookshop, Readings in Carlton, Melbourne. I bought Gerald Murnane’s Border districts, which brings me one step closer to reading this Miles Franklin shortlisted book. Daughter Gums and I also visited, next door, the Readings Kids bookshop, where she bought Alison Lester’s Rosie sips Spiders for a baby shower she was attending this weekend.

It was so hard not to buy more, but you all know how behind I am in my reading so you’ll understand my abstemiousness!

I’d love to hear what you did – if you are an Aussie – to support the day?

Alison Lester Gallery

A couple of days before National Bookshop Day we were driving to Melbourne from Canberra via one of the long routes, in this case via Cann River. It was an interesting drive that took us through some quite dramatic landscapes – from the shimmering yellow-white colours of the Monaro in drought to the lush green of south-east Victoria which is not!

Alison Lester GalleryOn Day Two we overnighted at Foster, in order to visit Wilson’s Promontory, before driving on to Melbourne the next day via Fish Creek. Now, Fish Creek is a very pretty little town that also happens to be the home of the Alison Lester Gallery – yes, the Alison Lester who wrote (and illustrated) the book Rosie sips spiders mentioned above. Fish Creek is a lovely little town, and is in the region where Lester was born, grew up and still lives. We bought books here for our new Grandson Gums. The Gallery sells Lester’s books plus numbered prints of her beautiful book illustrations. It also has a little library nook where you can read her books before you decide to buy them. Unfortunately Lester wasn’t there, but you can organise to have your books signed if you want to (and don’t mind waiting for your books!)

BTW Alison Lester was one of Australia’s Inaugural Children’s Laureate from 2011 to 2013, which I wrote about back then.

The Wife and RBG

One of our Melbourne traditions is to have a meal and see a movie with Daughter Gums. We usually go to Cinema Nova (across the road from Readings Bookshop.) It’s a big complex, but not at all like those big impersonal suburban multiplexes. The cinemas are mostly small, and many have rather idiosyncratic layouts, but the movie selection is wonderful. We decided to see The wife, starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, and adapted from Meg Wolitzer’s novel, that I haven’t read. It focuses on the responses and feelings of the wife of an author who is told he has won the Novel Prize for Literature. If you don’t know the story, I don’t want to spoil it, but it is a great film for booklovers, and, particularly, for women booklovers! I enjoyed seeing Glenn Close again in a meaty role. The story is full of issues to chew over about gender, morality, pride, vocation, relationships over the long haul, and about how a door chosen can have unexpected ramifications down the line.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court of the United States (Source 2)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Then, suddenly finding ourselves with some extra free time, Mr Gums and I took the opportunity to also see the documentary RBG about the US Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As documentaries go, this takes a pretty standard form – a combination of archival footage, contemporary footage, interviews with Ginsburg and with friends, family and colleagues. Wikipedia quotes film reviewer Leslie Felperin who says:

…there is something deeply soothing about RBG, a documentary that, like its subject, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is eminently sober, well-mannered, highly intelligent, scrupulous and just a teeny-weeny bit reassuringly dull.

As I said, traditional in form, but the subject is so intelligent and her contributions to thinking about women’s rights so relevant beyond the USA, that the film kept us engaged from beginning to end. She is a fascinating woman with an inspiring capacity for clarifying the complex.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dark Emu

Bruce Pasco, Dark emuNow, we didn’t quite see Bangarra Dance Theatre’s performance of Dark Emu this week but we did see it very recently so I’m sneaking it in here. This is Bangarra’s interpretation of Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark emu (my review) in which he argues that indigenous Australians were not hunter-gatherers but had an agricultural practice, a practice that better proves, in legal terms apparently, their sovereignty or ownership of the land.

I wondered how they would balance the abstraction of dance with the literalness of the theory Pascoe presents (a theory that requires evidence of all sorts of agricultural practices) without, somehow, being prosaic. The dance, the props (which helped convey activities such a corralling animals, damming water, storing food), the lighting, and the music (which mixed traditional sounds with more suggestive modern ones) kept the audience on track with the story being told, although I understand Canberra reviewer Michelle Potter’s point that we didn’t always comprehend the “meaning” of what we were seeing in terms of the theoretical argument. For Mr Gums and me, though, these concerns were not strong enough to spoil the spectacle of Bangarra’s dancing. The moves, the shapes, the energy – we can never get enough of them and we did “get” the main threads of the narrative. (And, I suspect a second viewing would make a big difference. It is sometimes tricky to separate out spectacle from meaning first time around.)