Baileys Prize 2017

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced on 7 June.  Here is my quick and incomplete guide to the shortlist.

The shortlisted books are:

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan

I’ve read four of the list (pictured below – missing my copy of Do Not Say We Have Nothing, back in London but probably my favourite of the list).

IMG_7034
Just add Baileys!

I am intrigued by First Love and have heard mixed reports of The Sport of Kings.  My thoughts on the four I’ve read … :

The Power

Women have the power to electrocute you with their hands.  This gives them swagger and confidence; men are afraid to walk the streets at night.  Gender wars and global upheaval ensue, reverse-echoing current geopolitics (men must stay at home, genital mutilation, etc).  Alderman seems to say: women would behave in the same way as men, given the chance.  Muscular, engaging writing and interesting characters.  The story is science fiction (which I don’t tend to enjoy because of the extra leaps of faith it requires) and works at a macro level, so I wasn’t ‘in’ its world.  But a very strong book.  I would not be surprised if it won.

Stay With Me

Yejide and Akin are married in 1980s Nigeria and trying to have a baby.  Traumatic events occur, without being sensationalised.  This is a gentle book, despite the emotional punch.  The writing does not draw attention to itself but presents the characters with sensitivity and compassion.  It took me a while to get into and I did not love it overall – I couldn’t get traction or immerse myself in the story – but I admired its originality and sense of place.  A quietly strong book.

The Dark Circle

Beautiful writing, sympathetic characters sent to a sanatorium with tuberculosis, and an interesting moment in history – 1949-51 – I wanted to love this more than I did.

Well-crafted, I liked brash Lenny and Miriam in London, but the parts with bored, ill sanatorium patients dragged and I never got attached to the characters (although Persky the American was fun).  The story felt contrived at times, pressing on the reader the symptoms of TB and historical treatment of the disease.

But – beautiful craftsmanship, each sentence honed and polished, thoughtfully written, intelligent and (I’m assuming) historically accurate.  There is much wisdom here, but it’s put as the characters thinking, which was sometimes a stretch.  For example, Hannah the German (“Germany had an innate dislike of chaos and untidiness”) reflects that “in the spirit of the British there was, she felt, a kind of human glitch, the system could handle a sense of humour …”

The patients analyse Metamorphisis and its parallels to their situation and the Jews (waking up one day and being in a body that is treated as though one might as well be an insect).  This was interesting but I found it a little clunky.

The sanatorium part ends and soon after that I thought the story came to a natural end, without a neat resolution but the tension in the story (who survives) is answered.  But then there is a long tail as the story goes on for 40-odd pages, following the surviving characters into old age, which I didn’t need.  Perhaps it’s ‘completing the circle’ or to satisfy the readers’ curiosity, but I thought it weakened the novel.

I so wanted to like it more!  I plan to read more of Linda Grant as she’s hugely talented and maybe with a story that’s more about the characters and less about an ‘issue’ I’ll have more luck.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Madeleine Thien - Do Not Say We Have Nothing

A devastating story, beautifully told.  It may inspire you to listen to Bach, Shostakovich or Prokofiev anew and deepen your compassion for all the people of China who lived through the Cultural Revolution, and their children.  It’s long and intricate – I needed a cast of characters at times – but it weaves together whole lives with care and delicacy and the characters feel real.  Accomplished, this feels like the novel Madeleine Thien was born to write.  Highly recommended, with a tissue caveat.

This is my pick for the prize!  Who do you think will win?

 

 

Infinite Jest

Thank you Jen P of The Reader’s Room for hosting an Infinite Jest buddy read on Litsy – this was the perfect way to read the book that’s sat dauntingly on my shelf for years.

david-foster-wallace-infinite-jest

I cannot capture in a review what Infinite Jest is and why I love it.  Here is a philosopher at work; but also a great wit and exquisite writer.

It sounds strange to say that he ‘gets to the heart of the matter’ when the book is this long but David Foster Wallace pulls from a myriad of conversations, tennis drills, night walks, family dinners and drug busts the essence of what it is to be human.

He does much more besides: predicts the future, gives voice to the marginalised, and entertains.  One footnote alone had me laughing for hours.

It’s the story of the Incandenza family and a cast of characters, many and varied – mainly set in a tennis academy and a nearby halfway house for recovering drug addicts.  Hal is a tennis prodigy and when the book opens he is in a college interview with Uncle C. T. Travis speaking for him; he has “already justified his high seed in this week’s not unstiff competition…”

And from the opening pages – with echoes of P. G. Wodehouse and Douglas Adams’ humour – I was hooked.  1,000 pages and there is not a pat sentence, much less a cliche, among them.

DFW skewers, variously: fast talkers, film students, sports jocks, conscientious mothers, white-haired AA veterans (‘crocodiles’), politicians and spin doctors.  He is so observant, the humour so spot-on, that I laughed out loud throughout much of the book, and re-read passages for fun (the last thing you think you want to do with a book this length).

But what has stayed with me is the compassion for the addicts, the deformed, those on the fringe.  The residents of Ennet House are in a battle for survival and he makes heroes of all (or most).  An acne-prone student engineer, invisible to most, becomes the star of his own story.

Mario Incandenza, a homodontist dwarf with an extra-large head and permanent smile, who stands on a lean, is almost exaggeratedly deformed but emerges as the book’s wise sage and most poignant character.

Milan Kundera says the job of a novelist is to describe: “compassion for the ephemeral, salvaging the perishable.” (The Curtain).

DFW takes great care in describing the lives of each of his many characters.  I felt the anxiety of waiting for a drug dealer with Erdedy: “He had never been so anxious for the arrival of a woman he did not want to see” and could picture the child Hal “holding out the mold, seriously, like the report of some kind of audit.”

Each paragraph shines a light on an aspect of human existence, so that by the end you feel like a country has been brought to life in all its messy glory; he has carefully woven a theory of the meaning of life.

Some say it is self-indulgent but I disagree – it is rather, a generous book in which not one word is wasted.  DFW was having fun (I hope); perhaps showing off (who cares) but I had the sense he was trying urgently to communicate something essential about life: that everyone’s life is an absurd struggle, but each has value, if we would stop and cherish the small fleeting moments.

Albert Camus said that life loses meaning when we start doing things by habit and see ourselves as machines or drones, and that:

“There is only one serious philosophical question and that is suicide.”

Tennis is a metaphor for life: the beauty of the game, but also the repetitive drills the juniors undertake; they will become part of the entertainment machine if they make it to ‘the Show’ – but only one or two will, making the endless practice absurd.  Jim Incandenza’s father says to him: “Jim, brace yourself against my shoulder here for this hard news, at ten: you’re a machine a body an object, Jim.”

Schtitt explains tennis to Mario in one of my favourite passages: DFW soaring into highbrow maths theory with a continuum of infinities: each shot in tennis leads to infinite responses, but they are contained by the skill and imagination of the player, “ie by oneself” so that tennis is “life’s endless war against the self that you cannot live without.”

Mario: “And then but so what’s the difference between tennis and suicide, life and death, the game and its own end?”

Schtitt answers, “the chance to play.”

Kate Gompert, severely depressed, in a later scene, says “I don’t want to play anymore.”

DFW has compassion for the down-and-out and empathy for the suicidal.  He does not shy away, and respects those experiences as much as Orin punting a football or Pemulis scoring DMZ.  The fact that DFW took his own life in 2006 makes these sections extra poignant.

Addiction is a major theme.  We see Americans’ addiction to entertainment – DFW eerily prescient regarding a future in which people can programme their own TV and watch themselves.

Marathe, a Quebec terrorist, and Steeply, a spy, discuss this.

“Now what has happened when a people choose nothing over themselves to live … A USSA that would die … for the so-called perfect Entertainment.”

The Entertainment refers to the film “Infinite Jest” made by Jim Incandenza which is reportedly so addictive that anyone who watches it will die.

Hal muses towards the end of the book: “We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. … A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into.  Flight from exactly what?  These rooms blandly filled with excrement and meat?”  Meaning running from the monotony of life.  But one cannot escape one’s own life.  And we are back to tennis and Schtitt: “life’s endless war against the self you cannot live without.”

tumblr_lmtarl6plU1qks0zqo1_500.jpg
Steeply and Marathe (picture from Yorrick Entertainment, design by Chris Ayers)
Communication is another theme: Hal is precocious with language but his father believes he cannot speak; Gately is mute at one point; Marathe has translation issues; Joelle is ‘apparently mute’ earlier; Orin lies.

The way we survive and make life bearable is by communicating with others, and how we connect with family and each other.  Hal and Orin’s phone conversations are some of the funniest passages in the book, true and touching.  Ennet House is a family of sorts.

DFW also makes almost a cult of deformity, notably with the Union for the Hideously and Improbably Deformed, started by a woman insulted by Winston Churchill.  Madame Psychosis’s radio show, where she reads out the PR circular for the union, has a wonderfully off-beat, Lynchian black humour: “Come all ye hateful.  Blessed are the poor in body, for they.”  This running theme shows DFW’s exaggerated quirky brilliance – combining comedy with sadness – that is so affecting.

The great pleasure of the book comes from its language.  It is virtuoso and covers every tone, every register.

A street in Boston: “rained-on sienna-glazed streets … cars sheening by with the special lonely sound of cars in rain.”

Avril on Hal’s friends: “reptilian Michael Pemulis and trail-of-slime-leaving James Struck, both of whom gave Avril a howling case of the maternal fantods.”

The drug DMZ: “the single grimmest thing every conceived in a tube.”

Joelle in a moment of ecstacy: “deveiled and loved, observed and alone and sufficient and female, full, as if watched for an instant by God.”

Johnny Gentle, Famous Crooner, “suddenly swept to quadrennial victory in an angry reactionary voter spasm.”

It goes on and on; every line is quotable and the endnotes are gold.

The ending is much debated and left me dazed and confused, but I would not have expected DFW to tied it up neatly.  It left me wanting more.  And it leaves other books – good, award-shortlisted books – seeming basic by comparison, or too perfect, vetted and boring.  (DFW warned against the ‘tweed breeze’ of taught literature in an essay).

I’m left wondering how DFW could live with all those words, all those ideas, inside his head, with – I’m sure to him – an imperfect ability to communicate them to others – and yet the absurdity of trying to every day.  Sadly for all of us, he could not.  He burned too brightly.

It is said that IJ is the defining book of the 1990s.  I loved the nostalgic 1990s feel.  And but so it also made me wonder, what will be the defining book of the new millenium?

 

Japan with Children (and Books)

Japan is one of our favourite, but all-too-rare, holiday destinations.  So smart, so polite and well-ordered, such care taken with everything from handing you a business card to presenting a plate of sushi as a work of art.  But I also love the quirky personality of Japan: its hidden bars, pop-rock-cutie fashion and dark crime novels.

We spent four days in Tokyo with Zoe (7) and George (5).  I took some Japanese books (aka ‘destination reading’) forgetting that chances to read when holidaying with children are pretty slim.  Some highlights below – bookish and otherwise!

 

IMG_5642.JPG
View from our room at the Prince Park Tower Hotel, which had long Murakami-esque corridors.

HARAJUKU

We loved Cat Street.  Had a great coffee and cronuts at The Roastery.  Also excellent burgers and salads at Golden Brown Burgers (recommended by Monocle).  Don’t be put off by the ‘burger’ aspect – these were nutritious, with wonderful fresh salads also on the menu.

Yoyogi Park was beautiful to walk through and we would love to see Tomigaya (the area just on the other side of the park from Harajuku), which sounded fun and Brooklyn-esque and was featured recently in New York Times.  I think I need to open a file “Things to Do When We Return to Tokyo sans kids”.

We had a sushi dinner at family-friendly Itamae Sushi – it was excellent.  There are various locations; our closest was near Shiba Park.

Books: Tokyo Precincts and Tokyo Style Guide have some beautiful ideas for neighbourhood walks.

IMG_5714.JPG
A Sunday stroll in Ginza

 

GINZA

We spent two hours shopping for stationery at Loft, then went next door to Muji for another suitcase. 😉

We adored Matsuya department store and could have spent longer.  Lunch tip: we bought bento boxes from the Food Hall and took them to eat on the rooftop (level R in the lift). Very relaxed.

Book: I could not help thinking of Out by Natsuo Kirino, which features factory workers who make bento boxes, and a grisly murder.

FISH MARKETS

We did a tour late morning – would be good to make the 4am commitment and see the tuna auction (another one for the file).  There is talk of moving the fish markets to a new location, so it might be one of the last chances to see the original.

A fabulous lunch at Tsukiji Edogin – it’s a five minute walk from the fish markets with excellent produce and space for 9 of us (we had met up with friends from Sydney), and they take bookings.  I highly recommend it if you have a group but want to go local.

IMG_5756.JPG

Winning lunch at Edogin with Penny, John and Gia

Our wonderful nanny minded the kids for us so we escaped with friends Penny and John for a fabulous dinner at Sushi Tsubaki (another Monocle recommendation) with a cool chef, wonderful traditional sushi, amazing fresh fish and flavours.

SHIMODA

Next stop, Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula.  Note to self: bring your international driver’s licence (Japan is strict on the paperwork) – a car is recommended.  Also, when renting a house, remember that coffee is number one priority!  We had to resort to the 7-11 down the hill, which had that filter style that tastes like someone has put coffee dregs into old dishwater.  Our wonderful host came to the rescue with some pods on the second day.

You need to seek out the cool spots in Shimoda and (ideally, with a car, which you will have because you’ve taken my advice) beyond.  (e.g. a surf shop on our way out which served fantastic coffee; Perry Road near the harbour).

I’m not sure we have quite nailed that area yet but Jason found it super chilled and relaxing so it’s a thumbs up!

IMG_5871
Iritahama Beach

Books:

Thanks to The Readers podcast – Simon and Thomas discussed Japanese books in one episode and the listeners had some great recommendations…

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata, translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

Beautiful and subtle, this was too oblique for me.   Slow-moving, with an unsympathetic protagonist and his lover, a tragic figure.  Nuanced writing, thoughtful and humane.  There is much to think about and space to read between the lines.  I would appreciate it more reading quietly on a train going through the snow country of the title (instead of at the beach with children!).

The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe, translated by E. Dale Saunders

Contrary to the title, not a beach read!  A man is held captive in a woman’s house to help dig out the sand dunes that the house is buried in.  This had a nightmarish quality, both with his failure to escape, the heat and the sand (in his food, hair, clothes).  Interesting and poetic, with descriptions of thirst and being trapped by sand all too vivid.  I admired it.

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O. Smith

I really enjoyed this detective story set in Tokyo.  It has an interesting premise (a wife suspected of murdering her husband from afar) and engaging characters: the likeable but flawed Detective Kusanagi trying to solve the mystery with the help of his physicist friend Yukawa.  I loved The Devotion of Suspect X too, and am keen to read more by Keigo Hugashino.

Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb

I loved this novella about working at Yumimoto Corporation in Tokyo.  Amelie Nothomb has a wonderful, dry sense of humour but also a deep understanding of Japanese culture.  Her empathy for her Japanese colleagues and ability to laugh at herself make for terrific, laugh-out-loud comedy and an at times poignant study of the constraints of life in Japan working for ‘the company’.

Bullfight and The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue, translated by Michael Emmerich

I love Yaushi Inoue’s beautifully spare prose and the way he reveals characters slowly, leaving us to think about where our sympathies lie.  Small but perfectly formed, these are cut like crystal.  Highly recommended.

And I could do a whole post about Haruki Murakami (I read Wild Sheep Chase while I was away, and found the most beautiful little book called Haruki Murakami Goes to Meet Hayao Kawai – inspiring).

Do you like reading for holiday destinations?  I have another one coming up (Barcelona), which has me thinking about books in translation generally.  Maybe for another post!

Now back to Inifinite Jest….

Salt Creek and The Secret River

Let’s talk about confronting books.

Last month I read Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar and saw the stage adaptation of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River.  Both deal with English settlers in Australia and the treatment of Aboriginal people (and their land).  They were different experiences – the play more visceral, the book more reflective – but with many parallels.

The Secret River was an incredible production, staged in Anstey Hill Quarry, 20 minutes’ drive from the centre of Adelaide, as part of the Adelaide Festival.

IMG_5089.JPG
Pre- theatre drinks at The Secret River with my sister Madeleine

A young English family, the Thornhills, try to make a new life in Australia, too poor to travel back home.  They settle on the Hawkesbury River after hearing that land is ‘available’ there.  This land is inhabited by Aboriginal people, who are suspicious and baffled by the strangers.  Their clothes, English habits and attempts to tame the land are almost comical and this effect – how foreign Australia seemed to the English – is powerfully brought to life in the quarry setting.

Secret_River_Adelaide_Festival_Large_1.jpg
Nathaniel Dean and Ningali Lawford-Wolf, The Secret River.  Photo credit: Sydney Theatre Company

Each hopes the other group will move on.  The English family is sympathetically portrayed but there are some cruel and unhinged characters down the river.  On the other hand, we see the Aboriginal families hunting, at home on the land, and the children playing together with humour and innocence.

Tension builds as the two groups cannot communicate with each other or coexist.  The menace of the bullies downriver creates a dark undertone.

During the first half I found myself resisting the story.  I knew how it ended (shamefully for white Australians) and did not want to relive it.  But the climax was moving and powerful.  The effects used to show the violence, mixed with the chilling “London Bridge is Falling Down”, made for superb theatre: it showed in one scene a whole history of imperialism and bloodshed.

The narrator, Ningali Lawford-Wolf, said something at the end about ‘witnessing’ what happened, lest it be forgotten. She was speaking about a character in the play, but I took it as an answer to my question: why watch uncomfortable theatre?  Because we need to be witnesses to history.

Salt Creek tells the story of English settlers taking land on the Coorong, South Australia.  The setting, 129 miles from Adelaide, is isolated even today and was at the end of the earth then.  They try to cling to their old social mores and rules but the father’s ventures (cattle, then sheep) fail.  Worse, they ruin the plants and waterholes used by the Aboriginal custodians of the land for thousands of years.  Civil life disintegrates.

9781743533192.jpg

Again we see the desire by the wife to return to England or at least to the city, and the husband dreaming of fortunes to be made.  We follow the story through Hester, their daughter, who is trapped there by circumstance.  Slowly they come unstuck and, despite good intentions, cannot live with the Aboriginal inhabitants.

I found this slow to start, but ended up enjoying it.  The thoughtful writing, immersion in the desolate landscape and determination of Hester kept me reading.  The isolation, and the cruelty of the settlers depressed me – the father in particular was extremely unlikeable.  But the journey of Hester is interesting and her conscience about what happened to the Aboriginal people (many died or became ill from imported diseases, their children removed and sent to missions, sacred sites ruined) is something to reflect on.  It was not her fault exactly but there is a sense of wrongdoing.

I read Salt Creek as part of the Read Harder challenge: a book set within 100 miles of your location (near enough, I hope!).  We spend our summers at Goolwa Beach, where the Coorong starts, so the location did resonate with me.  Goolwa was famously the setting for Storm Boy, a classic book by Colin Thiele and 1976 movie (now being remade).

IMG_3371.JPG
Goolwa Beach

What are your favourite confronting books?

Read Harder

I’m doing Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge 2017 for the first time this year, with some of the (always-inspiring) London Book Clubbers.

We have 24 tasks to complete, so it equates to two per month (although one book can cover  more than one task).  Like DiverseAThon, it’s great way to expand my reading.  Fantasy and comics will be new to me, and Roxanne Gay has set a task to read a book published by a micropress, which will be fun to seek out.

17f28821eaf37b2fec24e920a223f711
Read Harder Challenge 2017 tasks

Here is my progress so far…

Read a debut novel:  several of my 2017 reads have been debuts: Shelter, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, The Nix and The Dry by Jane Harper

IMG_5091.JPG
Reading The Dry at Adelaide Airport

I really enjoyed The Dry, a thriller set in rural Australia.  A smart protagonist and some realistic local characters, with a strong, well-paced story.  Harper does a wonderful job of creating the atmosphere of a small country town, both the landscape and a community on edge.  Recommended.

Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: both The Good Immigrant and Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue qualify – I reviewed The Good Immigrant (excellent selection of essays) in an earlier DiversAThon post.

31307448

Behold the Dreamers is a warm, engaging story about Cameroon immigrants to New York.  The characters are sympathetic and Mbue does not shy away from the difficulties they face, the stress of job insecurity and the strain this puts on a marriage.  For me, it lacked dramatic tension, as we know what happened to Lehman Brothers, and it was a little too earnest, but I liked having Jende and Neni’s perspectives.  Thought-provoking and good, honest writing.

Read a book published between 1900 and 1950: Fantastic Night by Stefan Zweig.

A wonderful collection of Stefan Zweig’s stories.  His writing is elegant, philosophical and humane.  Zweig was extremely erudite but wore his knowledge lightly.  He conjures up beautiful turn-of-the-century European settings and a time when people travelled, for leisure and then necessity.  The bittersweetness of past loves, the fears of war and a reverence for forgotten greats (a bibliophile, an actor) drive these tales, told with warmth and style.

Read a YA or middle-grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.  I have to thank Jamie Klingler of the London Book Club for this one: the audiobook of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, read by Lin Manual Miranda.

220px-Aristotle_and_Dante_Discover_the_Secrets_of_the_Universe_cover.jpg

An excellent book – poignant, true and funny. I laughed, I cried and absolutely loved Miranda as a narrator.  A winner!

Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel: Nightwood by Djuna Barnes.  I’ve had this on my TBR for years, ever since I read about Djuna Barnes in a biography of Peggy Guggenheim, so in between the 1,000+ pages of Infinite Jest I thought I’d do this as a ‘quick’ read and tick it off my list.  Wrong!  Only 208 pages but oh so dense!  My review below…

894659

Sublime but elusive, the story of the doomed love between two women, told in vivid prose.  Paris is seedy, the characters flawed and Gothic.  Barnes’ writing gleams: her poetic wordplay and wit reminded me of Shakespeare; the confessional tone pre-dates Camus’ The Fall, and the Woolf comparisons are apt too.  Strong, dense, it refuses to be matter-of-fact, but feels searingly honest.

Read a book where all point of view characters are people of colour.  I have something quite different for this one.  Our Adelaide Book Club is going to Hong Kong in June, so in preparation this month we have read Crazy Rich Asians (about to be made into a movie).

Image result for crazy rich asians

This has been called Dynasty on steroids and the next 50 Shades of Grey.  If you’re a fan, you’ll love it.  Some of the praise is overblown (it’s no Pride and Prejudice or Evelyn Waugh), but Kwan meticulously describes the lives of the super-rich in Asia, and the materialism and prejudices of those places, with accuracy and humour.  One-dimensional characters, every luxury brand name-checked.  A bit superficial for me, but very good for what it is.

And here is my Read Harder TBR stack!  I’ll leave you to guess what tasks these relate to.  Next, I’ll be immersing myself in Japanese books for our trip to Tokyo in April. Yay!  Sayonara for now…

IMG_5218.jpg

Mad March

Here is a snapshot of life in Adelaide – I had the pleasure of a friend from London Book Club visiting last weekend, so was able to share with her all the craziness that is Mad March!

Adelaide Writers’ Week is one of my favourite events – it’s free, held in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens among the trees, and attracts big-name authors and new (to me) discoveries.  It is part of the Adelaide Festival – this year’s highlight for me will be Neil Armfield’s The Secret River, adapted from Kate Grenville’s book and staged in a quarry.  At the same time we have the Fringe (the world’s second-largest annual arts festival).  Then there’s the Adelaide 500 V8 supercar race (don’t mention the road closures) and this weekend is Womadelaide. Whew!

On Saturday I ducked into Writers’ Week to hear Nathan Hill discussing his fabulous novel The Nix.  I’m thrilled to hear that it’s being made into a movie with Meryl Streep. He was super engaging and I love the book so far – funny, with a sense of playfulness that reminds me of (but is easier than) David Foster Wallace.

IMG_4811.JPG
Nathan Hill and Steven Gale

We were lucky enough to have a dinner booking at Peel St – having been away last year, I’ve so missed their blend of casual atmosphere and exceptional, fresh food. Heaven!  Then onto the Riverbank Parc Palais for a larger-than-expected frosé.

 

IMG_4815.JPG
Cimone, me and Alex on the riverbank (Adelaide Oval behind us).

Sunday and back to Writers’ Week for stories based on true crime, with Graeme Macrae Burnet discussing the Booker-shortlisted His Bloody Project and Hannah Kent with the follow-up to her outstanding debut Burial Rites, The Good People.  Entertaining and articulate, definitely worth the early start (two macchiatos later!).  Graeme Macrae Burnet was signing his book with a fingerprint, so of course I had to break my book ban and buy a copy.

Next up, the Art Gallery of South Australia for the incredible Versus Rodin exhibition.  Leigh Robb has done a beautiful job with her first major exhibition in her new role as Contemporary Curator.  She has juxtaposed the Rodin works with modern paintings and sculpture – by artists such as Sarah Lucas, Antony Gormley and Louise Bourgeouis – on the theme of the human body.  It’s on until 2 July – come and see it!

IMG_4769.jpg
‘Finger Churches’ by Dennis Oppenheim

Next up was 2KW for a rooftop drink and tapas (= Sol Sessions).

IMG_4846.jpg
2KW Sol Sessions

Then onto a Fringe Show, the fabulous, talented and funny Hugh Sheridan with the California Crooners.  So, so good!  I have been spoilt with live music in the past and some artists cannot be compared (Bruce Springsteen) , but the Crooners gave us such a fun, relaxed night of entertainment – a wonderful show.  We were too busy dancing so my photos are all blurry – but here is the pretty setting on the Torrens, looking back to the Riverbank Palais (see earlier frosé).

IMG_4848.JPG
River Torrens, looking south from Adelaide Oval. 

Monday and time to meet another author – the wonderful and engaging Jessie Burton, discussing The Muse – one of my favourite books of 2016.  More coffee needed…

IMG_4879.jpg

Alex was departing Monday night so how to fit in all of South Australia’s famous wineries?  Luckily, 10 minutes from the city is Magill Estate, home of one of our most iconic winemakers, Penfolds.  We did a tasting, followed by lunch at the Kitchen – absolutely superb and the Express Lunch is amazing value at $35 for 2 courses plus a glass of wine.  We had duck bao for entree, perfectly roasted, crispy duck leg with pumpkin for main and a chocolate dessert… Mondayitis begone!

IMG_4890.jpg
Not my usual Monday lunch: the chocolate dessert at Magill Estate Kitchen, before we demolished it.

And that’s all for one weekend!  Next up: more Festival reports, and why today’s book haul had a Japan theme….

DiverseAThon

I’m playing catch-up today with a long overdue post.  I joined DiverseAThon in January – a great prompt for me to read more books by diverse voices.  I do read widely, including many books in translation, but when I looked at my shelves I realised these are mostly European (and mostly men).  Here’s to broadening my reading horizons.

So, what diverse reads did I have on my shelves at home?

IMG_4693.JPG
DiverseAThon reads

Still pretty mainstream, but a good start.  I’m going to aim for more diverse reads this year and keep reading in translation (books in translation perhaps a blog post in itself).

Some quick reviews:

Shelter by Jung Yun:  A pity I can’t show you this one because the cover was beautiful! (different to the one in the link).  This was a drama centering on a Korean-American family.  It was challenging as I did not warm to the characters, but real and compelling: I wanted to know what would happen next.  I must say, I didn’t enjoy it, but it has stayed with me as an honest, strong, well-written book.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty: I absolutely loved this.  Strong, fizzing, inventive prose and on-point commentary about racism and Amercia.  Beatty skewers, subverts and glorifies in race issues and America’s uncomfortable past and present.  I laughed out loud, stopped to think and otherwise just enjoyed the ride.  Highly recommended.

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla.  An excellent collection of essays – fresh writing, highly readable.  An important book if for no other reason than to open our minds, remind us what a diverse world we live in but bring home that things like humour, wanting to connect and the magic of a good haircut are universal.  But mostly just a great read!  Darren Chetty writes a wonderful essay on teaching children to write using characters from their own background – the resulting stories are stronger with more emotional engagement.  Varaidzo, Miss L (on being cast as ‘the wife of a terrorist’) and Salena Godden were also highlights.  A shout-out to the London Book Club for this winning Secret Santa gift!

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue: this is where my DiverseAThon went off the rails … I was 40 pages in and really enjoying this – it’s warm, engaging and transports you to New York with some lively characters.  Then I saw that Litsy was doing an Infinite Jest buddy read (excellently hosted by Jen P of the Reader’s Room) – this has long been on my TBR, so I jumped at the chance to read it in the company of friends. Starting a week late, I dived in and … wheee yo mamma!  That’s for another post…

I’m also doing Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge – who wants to join me?  Another fun excuse to read out of my comfort zone and find new authors to fall in love with.  Although at the rate I’m going, I’ll have to make Infinite Jest fit into all of the categories. 😉

And yes, I know, I have not updated on my holiday reading from December/January.  Yikes!  While I think about how many blog posts I need to catch up on and all the books I’ve read over summer, and all the books still to read, here is a photo of Carrickalinga Beach.

IMG_3135.JPG
Carrickalinga Beach, South Australia.

What have you been reading?  Do you have any diverse or Read Harder recommendations?