Sight by Jessie Greengrass Review

Another one of those “this needs a full review” moments.

Sight is a beautiful, singular novel by Jessie Greengrass.  Reading it is like entering an intricate, secret world with the narrator, who is as curious as you are to unlock its mysteries.

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Narrated by a woman who is pregnant with her second child, it is partly a meditation on motherhood.  As she grapples with the choice whether to have a baby, it is really asking how can we fully see ourselves, understand the people close to us and cope with the sense of nostalgia that there is a better life, or version of us, just out of reach.

Greengrass is unflinchingly honest on the question of being a mother and a daughter. The narrator is ambivalent about becoming a parent, struggles with the changes to her body and self-identity.  Her marriage, too, is realistically depicted.  Here she describes missing her husband, Johannes, when away, but she knows that on her return,

“I would walk back through the door and all this certainty of love would fade behind the unwashed windows and the unbought milk to the usual chafing familiarity with one another.”

Her prose is exquisite: long, lyrical sentences with a rhythm that propels you forward.  The musicality and attention to thought reminded me of Virginia Woolf, especially Mrs Dalloway walking through London, and the realism and honesty are a little like Elena Ferrante, but having said that, her voice and style feel original.

Greengrass relates stories of Rontgen, who invented the X-ray, Freud’s psychoanalysis and John Hunter’s surgical experiments.  She tries to see how things really are – in pregnancy, marriage and family – and seems to find comfort in these pioneers who tried to pierce the surface and really see our bodies and minds.  These examples illuminate her thoughts and enrich the story.

Throughout, we see humans imperfectly striving to ‘see’ better – “but the price of sight is wonder’s diminishment”.

The narrator faces moments of transition – her mother passing from life to death; her pregnancy to birth; and from not-seeing to the sight of bones through an X-ray.  But she is also aware of the transitory nature of life – all the ephemeral moments, silences and mistakes.  Slowly she comes to terms with the value of these in-between times, from the things left unsaid between her and her mother to the cold drinks she shared with her grandmother, Doctor K.  Her relationship with Johannes contains gaps and silences:

“… somewhere in the space between us, the uncertain image of our future shivered.”

The scientists are a key to this insight.  They are doers: in their search for truth they experiment and, if that experiment does not succeed, the next one might.  John Hunter tried and failed to perform a Caesarean operation; after he died, his pupil carried on his work.

Here she reflects on how we choose our life (moment by moment):

“… how easily, how unwittingly we might break each possible future in favour of another and how, looking back, in place of what had been possible we would see only that thin contingent line, what happened, rising through the vast and empty darkness of what did not.”

Art and literature seek truly to see and describe elements of who we are, and I loved the juxtaposition of scientists doing the same.  It was uplifting to think of those great figures of history stumbling but persevering.  Life is a series of acts, failures and transitions to our fully realised selves.

Sight has been long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and is my tip to win (although, caveat – I won’t have a chance to read the whole list so my opinion is wildly unqualified!).

What are you reading at the moment?

 

Women’s Prize Longlist Predictions

The Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Bailey’s prize) is one of my favourites, so I’m looking forward to the longlist being announced on 8 March.  Here are my predictions.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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I loved this. Eleanor is a singular character, sympathetic even though she is tactless and anti-social. Her weekends spent drinking vodka alone in her flat are sad and cast light on loneliness, something we can all relate to on some level. I expected a bleak story (and there is one) but it’s also drily funny and I laughed out loud often. Raymond and his mother are too perfect, and her mother too evil, but it still rang true.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower

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This lived up to the hype. I was drawn in immediately to 18th century London: Mr Hancock anxiously awaiting his ship and famed courtesan Angelica Neal trying to live independently. Beautifully written (but doesn’t feel overwritten); Gowar used to work in museums and her descriptions of objects and materials give texture to the story.  She also finds the comical side. It’s not too supernatural despite the mermaid, although I found the second half less convincing than the first. A wonderful debut.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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There is a lot of heart and soul in this book. Good portrayal of privileged and troubled teens, white-bread parents, artist Mia with daughter Pearl and the town of Shaker Heights (suburbia on steroids). Mystery surrounds Mia and an adoption dispute affects them all. It felt contrived at times, Mia too saintly, Mrs Richardson too brittle & overall I thought it tried to do too much. Points of view changed so I didn’t become attached to any one character.  Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington are adapting this for television – I think it will be fabulous on screen.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

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Extremely good.  A re-telling of Antigone set in contemporary London, the sister is the story’s hero. Her brother is a jihadist – I wanted to empathise with him more, but even so, Shamsie succeeds in putting the reader in this family’s shoes: I haven’t read anything like it (Orhan Pamuk perhaps).  Engaging writing and has the high drama of Greek tragedy.  It grew on me as it went on and ended strongly.  Recommended.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

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This left me a little bit broken. I resisted the sentimentality at first, but the characters Ellis, Michael and Anne drew me in and I could not put it down. A story of friends grappling with love in Oxford and London, told with great care, truth and occasional humour. Incredibly moving throughout. The scenes of neighbours and friends helping each other through tough times (death; the AIDS crisis) were simply told, but heart-warming.  This is a refined, accomplished work. I like the economy of language and how deftly Sarah Winman moves between scenes and characters. Less is more, things are left unsaid, but she is careful to show us the good side of people. I appreciated this optimism in a book with so much sadness tugging at its heart!

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

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I loved these stories, based in the same town and whose characters are loosely connected. It’s comforting meeting characters more than once, and the gentle atmosphere despite the dark subjects. The spare prose is beautifully restrained. And while town life moves slowly, the stories are vivid and propel you forward. Family, loneliness and redemption are explored, with heartfelt characters: flawed, overweight, creepy, but she treats them with compassion.

Winter by Ali Smith

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The second in Ali Smith’s series of seasonal books.  The first, Autumn, is on my shelves and will be my next read I think.  And then I’m very much looking forward to Winter – everyone is raving about it so I have no doubt it will make the long-list.

Sight by Jessie Greengrass

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This is my current read.  It’s exquisite so far, with lyrical but precise sentences that remind me of Virginia Woolf.  Max Porter has compared it to Shirley Hazzard (one of my favourite authors) and it has a similar, careful beauty and intelligence that feeds your mind as you read.  Loving it.  Eric from Lonesome Reader has tipped this to win the Booker prize so we shall see!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

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This is on my shelf to read.  I’m including it on the strength of A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan’s earlier book which I absolutely loved.

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

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The story of a woman’s crisis in her marriage and faith, this sounds intense.  But it’s getting some high praise so I’ll be intrigued to see if it makes the long-list.

How many do you think I’ll get right? I’d love to hear your predictions.

Happy International Women’s Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Holiday Reads

I’ve had some friends ask me for book recommendations for the holidays, so here are my top summer reads.

Non-fiction

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The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krassnostein

A true story I can’t stop thinking about.  I noticed that Imprints and Matilda Books’ booksellers rated this among their best books of 2017.  It’s beautifully written and unlike anything else you’ll read.  Extraordinary.

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Mythos by Stephen Fry

I’m currently listening to and loving this as an audiobook, narrated by Stephen Fry. I always regretted not studying Greek mythology at school (especially now that I’ve married a Greek!) but now I’m glad I didn’t.  There is no more fun way to learn these stories: this book – especially read aloud in Stephen Fry’s inimitable way – is a joy.  Highly recommended and apart from the odd fruity bit, suitable for all the family (from around age 11 or 12).

Crime (always good for beach reading!)

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Still Life, Chief Inspector Gamache series (book 1) by Louise Penny

Cosy crime set in Quebec.  I love her diverse characters and the comfort factor.  Dead Cold is also great and I’m keen to read more from the series.

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Force of Nature (Aaron Falk book 2) by Jane Harper

Rural Australian crime, apparently even better than The Dry, which I enjoyed and has been taking the UK by storm recently.

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An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

More (literary) rural Australian crime, shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award and Stella prize 2017.  I highly recommend this for its en pointe writing and feminist sensibility.

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The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

A good page-turner a la Agatha Christie meets The Girl on the Train, this is being adapted for film and would be a perfect beach read.  I loved Ruth Ware’s first book, In a Dark Dark Wood, and The Woman in Cabin Ten is also on my TBR.

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The Liar (Eddie Flynn, book 3) by Steve Cavanagh

This is on my wish-list, after I read and loved The Defence and The Plea.  Intelligent, pacy legal thrillers set in New York, by Irish author Steve Cavanagh.  I discovered him after listening to his podcast with Luca Veste, Two Crime Writers and a Microphone (very funny, I recommend).

Buzzy Books

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Might be my book of the year.  I absolutely loved it.  So worthy of its Booker prize win.  I heard Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales say on Chat 10 Looks 3 that they could not get into this, so if you struggle I highly recommend his short story collection Tenth of December.   I just finished it and was blown away. The man is a genius (but an approachable, funny, warm and engaging one).

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celese Ng

I found this a bit contrived but it’s interesting and discussion worthy, and is being adapted for screen by Reese Witherspoon.

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Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

A re-telling of Antigone set in contemporary London.  Very current, well-written and with Muslim characters and point of view, I don’t think there are enough books like this.  Kamila Shamsie is also an excellent speaker and is coming to Adelaide Writers’ Week in March.

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Tin Man by Sarah Winman

This has been generating much buzz in the UK.  I found it sentimental at first but I was quickly drawn in.  Heart-breaking.  Sarah Winman is coming to Adelaide Writers’ Week too (as are Sarah Krassnostein and Louise Penny – it will be a big week).

What have you packed in your suitcase?

I’ve just been given Autumn by Ali Smith (much anticipated, and overdue as her next one Winter is out now) and Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne, set on the Greek island of Hydra.  Both are definitely coming with me to the beach!

 

 

Beloved by Toni Morrison review

Beloved needs no introduction, and is written in such poetic form that any words I contribute are reductive at best. However, as it left me reeling and slightly broken, I’ve attempted a longer than usual review to do it justice.

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Beloved, from one of my favourite bookstores, Imprints.

It is about the impact of slavery on one woman, Sethe, and is dedicated to

‘Sixty Million

and more’.

Sethe is free in the sense that she escaped from her owners at Sweet Home, but she is traumatised, both physically and mentally – she trying to hold onto herself but her idea of her ‘self’ is wrapped up in her dead baby girl; she does not think of herself as a person apart from that. The taking of this – the effect of slavery on her psyche – is particularly cruel.

She is left with memories that she cannot face, scars from hell, and a constant fear of returning.

Such was Sethe’s trauma that she killed her daughter when she saw white men coming to take her children away. Her daughter’s ghost, ‘Beloved’, haunts the house she shares with her surviving girl Denver.

How much pain can a person bear and still be themselves? Another survivor, Paul D, asks Stamp Paid something like this in a poignant scene late in the story, which I do not want to spoil. But I found this to be at the heart of the novel, that a person could endure slavery and survive it, in that their body is there, but what is left when their innocence, their faith in humanity, their songs and their children have been taken?

A rooster named Mister was the breaking point for Paul D:

“Mister was allowed to be and stay what he was. But I wasn’t allowed to be and stay what I was. Even if you cooked him you’d be cooking a rooster named Mister. But wasn’t no way I’d ever be Paul D again, living or dead.”

Thus Morrison tackles the idea of freedom and the way that slaves were deprived not only of their physical freedom but the ability to be themselves.

Baby Suggs (Sethe’s mother-in-law), a great character and the soul of the novel, expresses this. Tired to the point of ‘marrow weariness’, she tells Stamp Paid of the day the white men came for Sethe, “They came into my yard.”

Much later, he understands:

“The heart that pumped out love, the mouth that spoke the Word, didn’t count. They came in her yard anyway and she could not approve or condemn Sethe’s rough choice.”

As the best novels do, Morrison has us empathizing with the characters without judgment. Sethe has killed her daughter, whom she heart-breakingly calls ‘crawling already? girl’ and is haunted by the ghost of baby Beloved, and then by a girl of the same name.

I don’t enjoy supernatural elements in books, but I read this part as a way of showing the trauma Sethe has suffered: a lifetime of atrocities, pushing her mind to breaking point.

Like the approach Kurt Vonnegut took in Slaughterhouse Five, some horrors are unspeakable, can only be alluded to, and manifest themselves in other ways or forms. He (and Paul Beatty in The Sellout) used humour, but a great darkness lies beneath it.

Stamp Paid can hear the murmur of the ghost(s) in the house. This is how Morrison describes him standing at the front door, listening to the voices:

“The people of the broken necks, of fire-cooked blood and black girls who had lost their ribbons.

What a roaring.”

There are echoes of the voices in a later scene, which I won’t spoil.

The notion of evil runs through much of the story, and the hypocrisy of the people who perpetrated this evil while suggesting it was black people not they, who were less than human. Morrison manages to explore this with subtlety and nuance but it is relentless at the same time. She also touches on the effect on white people of their own evil.

“Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle.

But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through and after life, it spread, until it invaded the whites who had made it.”

There is also much kindness – from the white girl who helps Sethe, to Stamp Paid’s good deeds and the women who help Denver towards the end – and moments of tenderness.

The language is strong and exquisite throughout, the form inventive but always in a way that feels necessary, not neat or contrived. Morrison has a superb ear for voice and renders grief as a physical thing. It is visceral and heart-breaking.

I read this for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge: read a classic by an author of colour.  I would love to know if you’ve read it and what you thought. Now I have to go and recover!

10 Books to Read Before They Become Movies

Exciting news for book and film lovers: there are some great adaptations coming in 2018.

If, like me, you can’t read the book once you’ve seen the movie, get onto these now!

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Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

An exception, I’m seeing the film on Tuesday but would still happily go back and read the book, as Christie is my escapist happy place.  The new film stars Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz and Judi Dench and looks wonderful.  All aboard!

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Crazy Rich Asians.  Pic: Entertainment Weekly

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

The Adelaide Book Club read this for our trip to Hong Kong this year – a fun read that has been described as Dynasty on steroids.  One of those books that I did not love but think it will be better as a film.  Good news –  the film, starring Constance Wu, will be out in August 2018.

 

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Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

The movie, directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) is out in the UK and already generating Oscar buzz.  This is a coming-of-age story as Elio (17) falls for his family’s house-guest Oliver.  The book has the feel of a Guadagnino film, full of atmosphere – languid Italian summer days – and all the intricacies and faltering steps of first love, with the added complication of being gay.  It dragged in parts, but it evokes being young and self-absorbed, and the feel of a long summer, pierced with moments of intensity.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Reese Witherspoon is adapting this for television and I think it’s another one that I’ll enjoy more on screen than I did on the page.  There is a lot of heart and soul in the book and a good portrayal of privileged and troubled teens, whitebread parents, and the town of Shaker Heights (suburbia on steroids). Mystery surrounds Mia and an adoption dispute troubles them all. It felt contrived at times, Mia too saintly, Mrs Richardson too brittle and the ending corny, but definitely one to watch.

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In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Another Reese Witherspoon adaptation.  I could not put this down – a smart thriller for our time with diverse characters. The clever structure worked well. I thought the hens night a little twee at first, but so did Nora and Nina.  Interesting point about how the past can define us.  A good easy read, I’m looking forward to The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game next (both also being adapted for the screen).

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Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

One of my top books for 2017.  I loved this.  Wonderfully assured with a great premise – terrorists in Latin American country try to kidnap the President at a party, but he’s stayed home to watch his soap opera. The guests are held hostage. Beautiful, strong writing with music & a sense of humour running through. It strikes the perfect tone. I loved the sensibilities of the characters (Japanese, French, Russian), very funny but still sympathetic.  I can’t wait for the movie with Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Chaffer and Annie Barrows

I enjoyed this book as a cosy read, with an interesting history of the occupation during World War II and island setting.  We spent some time in Guernsey last year so I’ll be fascinated to see the movie set there.

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I did not love this book but might have to revisit.  Maria Semple is very funny and her observations are spot-on (see for example the first sentence of her recent book Today Will Be Different).  The upcoming movie of Where’d You Go Bernadette stars Cate Blanchett and Kristen Wiig so that’s enough for me!

For Younger Readers

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

This is a children’s classic, which I was lucky enough to be given when I was young and very much enjoyed, although I don’t usually like fantasy or science fiction.  The film starring Oprah Winfrey (looking incredible) and Reese Witherspoon comes out in March 2018.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I read this in one sitting. Spirited 16-year-old Starr has to face an adult world of racial violence and unrest, trying to find their identity amidst gang warfare and the ignorance of her ‘white people school’ peers. An important and enjoyable read. Angie Thomas is a former rapper with a poetic voice & wonderful ear for dialogue, & accepts flaws in her characters while letting the truth shine through.  Filming has begun on the movie starring Amandla Stenberg.

What book would you like to see made into a movie?  I read Sea of Poppies this year and thought it would make a great, colourful film, although it’s perhaps too unwieldy.  Another one I’d love to see on screen would be Mothering Sunday (the rights have been optioned by Film 4, so fingers crossed).  Closer to home, I think The Dry would be gripping on screen and cinematic with its rural Australian setting.

It looks like there will be a few fun cinema outings next year!

 

 

 

 

 

Man Booker Shortlist 2017

Here is a cheat-sheet if you’re following the Man Booker Prize to be announced on 17 October, but haven’t read the shortlisted books. I haven’t either, save two, but I still have a firm favourite (spoiler: it’s Lincoln in the Bardo) and thoughts about the others. 

1. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders 


Exquisite. I read this through a haze of jet-lag and coffee, but couldn’t put it down. My fears of heart-breaking sadness over the death of the Lincolns’ son were well-founded but Saunders takes us through the grief with a light touch and it’s redemptive and satisfying by the end. The chorus of the ‘sick’ is comforting and often funny, the stories ring true, his language dazzles and the style is spare and inventive. Warmly recommended and my pick to win.

2.  Autumn by Ali Smith

This sounds wonderful and I’m adding it to my Christmas list. Released 10 weeks after Brexit, it’s the first in a series, with Winter due out shortly. Ali Smith is an original, intelligent author so I’m excited to read this.

I heard she gave an amazing speech at the Goldsmiths Prize recently and have just found it in the New Statesman. It is brilliant – a stunning piece of writing, and I wish I’d been there to see it live (thanks to Liv at the Book Nook who talks about the evening here). 

On the strength of this Ali Smith would be a worthy winner. 

3. Elmet by Fiona Mozley

A debut novel, also going onto my Christmas list. Matthew Sciarappa did an excellent video review of this, and others have said it’s beautifully written and grows on you. 

Well done to Fiona Mozley for being short-listed for a debut. 

4.  Exit West by Mohsin Hamid


Hamid has a lovely, fluid writing style. I liked The Reluctant Fundamentalist (his nod to The Fall), which was conversational and witty, and thought-provoking at the same time. 

In this story of refugees, he expresses universal concerns & ideas about relationships with simple beauty and poignant moments. But it lacks tension (despite their hardships) and is distant: I felt an ambivalence about Saeed and Nadia’s fates. 

I would have preferred he name the home country. As it was, too many things were left vague or superficial, so I couldn’t get a grip on the story, although I admired it. 

I wonder if this was deliberate – perhaps he wanted a fable or biblical tone rather than a visceral story. It succeeds well in that case, but isn’t my style.

5.  4321 by Paul Auster

I enjoyed Auster’s New York Trilogy but am not planning to read this. I’m put off by the length and mixed reviews, including that it’s a little repetitive and stale (including homophobic content, which – apart from offending – is so last millennium). 

I heard an interview with his editor who said this was Auster’s magnum opus and most accomplished work, so it would be worth reading if you’re a fan.

6. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund 

Maybe the least likely to win. But again, what a great achievement for Emily Fridlund having a debut short-listed!  It sounds quite beautiful, with an isolated landscape and an odd narrator, but probably not my cup of tea.

Finally, I was surprised that The Underground Railroad missed out. You can read my review of it here

Who is your pick to win this year’s Booker? 

Read Harder Challenge 2017

Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge has definitely broadened my reading horizons in 2017.  Since my progress report in May I’ve braved fantasy, artificial intelligence and a graphic novel  – I hardly know myself anymore!

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Read a book about books

The New Life by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Guneli Gun

The narrator reads a book & goes off to find the meaning of life & win his beloved Janan. Slow to start, I was soon immersed in Pamuk’s rich, lyrical prose. His sentences are intricate, but so exact they stop you in your tracks. I love the layers of meaning & imperfect characters. (My full review is here).

Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, translated by Anne McLean

I love the originality of Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s work (although rooted in the tradition of such greats as Gabriel Garcia Marquez), and his rhythm – taut & lyrical, the prose flows beautifully with a wistful tone: “the nostalgia for things that weren’t yet lost”.  He creates a strong sense of place – Colombia from the 1960s to 1980s – and a story within a story. Antonio’s slow, believable decline is matched by the sympathetic characters Ricardo, Elena & Maya.

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Read an all-ages comic

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chang, Matthew Wilson and Jared Fletcher

Not my usual genre!  This was a fun, beautifully illustrated, fast-paced comic. I loved the strong protagonists (12 year old girls), smart, sometimes wrong, dialogue – showing the 1980s era – and detailed pictures. The inventiveness took me back to my youth, but it’s unlike anything I read when I was young.

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Read a travel memoir

The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold by Tim Moore

Tim Moore has the somewhat mad idea of riding a 1967 shopping bike from the German Democratic Republic the length of the Iron Curtain (20 countries, 9,000km). The result is a mix of travelogue and memoir of a previous trip in 1990, mixed with history. Moore has a wonderfully self-deprecating style; it’s often laugh-out-loud funny. He paints a dismal picture of soviet Russia, and is glib at times, but also savours moments of friendly goodwill. A unique trip.

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Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

A slow start but I enjoyed this – in the end the thoughtful writing, immersion in the desolate landscape and determination of Hester kept me reading. The isolation, and the settlers’ cruelty to the Aboriginal inhabitants of South Australia depressed me (knowing it’s based on fact). Would be a good discussion for book clubs.  My full review is here.

Read a fantasy novel

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

I struggle with fantasy because it requires that extra suspension of disbelief, but Philip Pullman succeeds in creating a rich world with human concerns.  I’m glad I read this, inspired by Kate and Rob from Adventures with Words, who are (re-)reading the series in anticipation of The Book of Dust, with La Belle Sauvage due out on 19 October.  Lyra is a great protagonist: a strong, street-smart but caring 11-year old girl who goes on a quest to save her friend and uncle.  Pullman creates vivid, alternate Victorian England and Lapland settings and nuanced characters.  A well-crafted fantasy with much to think about.

Read a non-fiction book about technology

It’s Alive! by Toby Walsh (to be published in the US as Machines That Think)

Artificial intelligence & the possibility of ‘thinking machines’ is fascinating – & happening faster than we think.  Robots can already write poetry and make music, so there is no reason they cannot learn to be more creative. We don’t know how conscious they can become though. My brain starts to hurt when I think about this.

Toby Walsh cuts through the hype to explore the likely advances, the benefits and dangers – in particular he warns against autonomous weapons, or ‘killer robots’, in war. Wonderful engaging style, clear writing & he brings expertise & thoughtfulness to the topic. Recommended.

Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (banned in Chicago schools and challenged in other states)

This is Marjane Satrapi’s story of her childhood in Iran during the revolution and Iran-Iraq war.  It has not been banned or challenged in Australia to my knowledge, but it was a great prompt to read a book I would not otherwise have discovered.  The beautiful pictures capture movement and emotion and her words are honest, to the point and unsentimental, with wry humour.  I loved the feisty narrator and was troubled by the parents’ decision to stay when they had the choice to leave, amidst oppression and war.

Read a book about war

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard

The story of children in a Warsaw ghetto in the Holocaust. Aron falls in with a gang, but he is still an innocent, troubled child: his relationship with his mother is beautifully described.  A sense of sadness & foreboding pervades the book. There is humour early on in the kids’ teasing & banter but this fades, as they move into survival mode & watch friends & family die. Dr Korczac is a hero to his orphans. An unflinching portrait.

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Read a book published by a micropress

Mikumari by Misumi Kubo, translated by Polly Barton, foreward by Naomi Alderman

Fantastic, I recommend it.  Strong writing, the protagonist schoolboy is funny but sympathetic and his lover, Anzu, a cosplayer, is interesting.  Kubo has been compared to Han Kang and this reminded me of Murakami in the best sense.

 

Read a collection of stories by a woman

Fen by Daisy Johnson

An extraordinary collection. Spare, accomplished writing with wonderfully controlled weirdness. Characters are raw, honest and sometimes turn into animals. Despite these magical elements, the stories feel poignant, true and rooted in the earth.

Nearly there – I have five tasks to go, so will update again soon!