Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

I remember first hearing about this story a long time ago watching the Simpsons. I then came across the film, and I remember watching it and thinking, huh. This seems like perhaps it’s a lesbian romance. Turns out I was on the money, so I decided to actually go and read the book. I’m not quite sure where I got my copy of this book from. Somehow it just manifested itself on my bookshelf. There’s no pricetag on it so maybe it was a donation? Either way, it turned out that my bestie and I were reading the same book at the same time, so we thought we’d make it an extravaganza and watch the film together as well.

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“Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” is a novel by Fannie Flagg that spans from the 1920s to the 1980s in Alabama, USA. Jumping back and forth through time, and told through little vignettes and articles, the novel is a sweeping story of a small town and the people in it through the Depression and World War II. In the 1980s is Evelyn, a woman who is losing her identity, her sense of purpose and even potentially her marriage now her children have moved out of home. When she meets the reminiscing Mrs Threadgoode at the same retirement home as her mother-in-law, Evelyn is revitalised by her stories. In particular is the story of incorrigible tomboy Idgie, how she came to meet the beautiful and kind Ruth and the life they built together at a little cafe.

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Flagg is a natural storyteller and this is the perfect book to pick up and read a couple of the short chapters at a time, then come back to again later. It’s a great balance of diverse and interesting characters against charming little stories. Reading this book, you can’t ignore that it was published in 1987. In some ways it absolutely broke ground, especially with respect to disability, women’s rights, homelessness and legitimising LGBTIQ relationships. I loved the character of Stump and how his community and his family rallied around him to help him thrive after his accident. I loved how accepting everyone was of Idgie’s gender identity and of her relationship with Ruth. I loved how much humanity Flagg injects into this novel, especially using the character of Smokey to explore homelessness, alcoholism and a transient lifestyle. In other ways this book has aged a bit, especially regarding the racial commentary. At time it’s hard to separate Mrs Threadgoode’s well-meaning yet archaic comments about African American people, and Flagg’s own views.

I can’t talk about this book without mentioning my favourite part. If you follow this blog, you know how I feel about books with recipes in the back. This book has SO many recipes in the back. Food is such an important part of the story, both in the present and in the past, and really give the book a sense of place. Having the opportunity to cook some of those recipes, including the titular fried green tomatoes which my bestie nailed, really added to the whole experience.

A fun, lighthearted story with some more serious aspects at time, I enjoyed the book a lot and enjoyed cooking the recipes even more.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Cookbooks, General Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Museum of Modern Love

I received an advanced reading copy of this book courtesy of Harry Hartog Woden and in fact won (and declined) another copy in a contest. This book is the 2017 Stella Prize winner, so already it had very high expectations to be met.

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Taken at the National Gallery of Australia. There is a fantastic exhibition on currently featuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists called Defying Empire which, if you are in Canberra, you must go see.

“The Museum of Modern Love” by Heather Rose is a novel based on a real piece of performance art that was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “The Artist is Present” was both a retrospective and performance piece performed by Marina Abramović. As Abramović sits for 75 days, and people line up every day to sit across from the famous artist and look in her eyes, others gather around to watch the performance. Jane Miller, a teacher and new widow who has taken a holiday to escape her grief. Arky Levin, a successful composer whose wife has left him and made him promise not to follow. Healayas Breen, a journalist and friend of Levin’s. Brittika van der Sar, a PhD student from the Netherlands. Then there is Abramović herself and the mysterious narrator who appears to be watching over her. The performance continues, every day, and the audience becomes a community linked together by this once in a lifetime experience.

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This book just didn’t do it for me. Maybe it was reading another book about the highly glamourised art world after reading not one but two recently, including the 2015 Stella Prize winner, but I think that wasn’t quite it. A very large proportion of this book is dedicated to chronicling the life of Marina Abramović, and at times this book felt almost more like a biography than a novel. I understand the author actually herself attended “The Artist is Present”, and I think I would have enjoyed her own experiences more. To me, for the most part, it seemed like it was piggy-backing on someone else’s creation. In this vein, I was frustrated by the almost incessant pop-culture references throughout this book. In a similar way to “The Elegance of the Hedgehog“, (which this book even references at some stage as an example of a great book, so there you go), there was a consistent undertone of cultural snobbery that irked me.

I also found some of the commentary in this book a bit grating. For a lot of the book, whenever somebody sat down in front of Abramović, Rose described a man with an angelic face, or a woman with strong jaw, unless they were anything other than white, in which case it was a “black woman” or an “Asian man” with little to no other description. I just feel like in 2017, if you’re going to point out a person’s ethnicity, you need to point out EVERYONE’s ethnicity. White is not default. Other comments that left me frowning included things like:

  • “What sort of Japanese child read Tennyson? Levin wondered”;
  • “There are visitors from Brooklyn, Bombay, Berlin and Baghdad. Well, perhaps not Baghdad, because that is a war zone of broken buildings, dust, heat and not a bird to be seen”;
  • “It will all be about money and the Chinese. Who wants that?”; and
  • “But Harlem had been making itself over for millions of years. Before white and black, there were Indians, and before Indians there had been mastadons and bison”.

Then there was the character of Levin. I resented every second of air time Levin was given, and I resented how we were supposed to empathise with basically the world’s worst husband. Jane, Healayas, Brittika and even Levin’s daughter were all far more interesting characters and I think should have been emphasised more in this story. Instead we’re forced to watch as Levin sacrifices his family for his own career and then give him a gold star when staring into a woman’s eyes gives him the courage to do the bare minimum required for an active participant in a marriage.

Ultimately, I think there are two kinds of readers: the readers who will enjoy books like “The Museum of Modern Love” and “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”, and those of us who won’t. Maybe this will be the book for you, but it wasn’t for me.

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Filed under Advanced Reading Copies, Australian Books, Book Reviews, General Fiction

Lost the Plot – Episode 15

Also available via iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/lost-the-plot-podacast/id1185190716

Future Library
www.facebook.com/Futurelibrary.no…/756937187813455
www.futurelibrary.no/

Lost Rocks
www.apublishedevent.net/projects/lost…lishing-event

Tasmania Mineral

Lost Rocks

ACT Lit Bloggers of the Future
actwritersblog.com/2017/05/19/act-…e-2017-program/

Whispering Gums
whisperinggums.com/

Book Awards
abiawards.com.au/general/the-17th…nners-announced/
www.perpetual.com.au/MilesFranklin/…and-Recipients
www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/may/…literary-awards

William Caxton’s lost pages
www.bbc.com/news/education-39846929

Jane Austen’s Secret Love
www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/…9de0b04b64a6

Pride and Prejudice House for Sale
www.buzzfeed.com/laraparker/empty…books#.mmR7Ok09e

Taiwanese Author Commits Suicide
www.buzzfeed.com/kassycho/author-…books#.alAnbdlY9

Support Resources
www.lifeline.org.au/
www.1800respect.org.au/

N K Jemisin in the world’s worst interview
storify.com/nkjemisin/how-not-t…interview-an-author
archive.is/DnQ3H

…except maybe Paul Beatty’s
www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/…MP=share_btn_fb

Top Borrowed Books in Australia
www.alia.org.au/news/15524/aussie…and-relationships

Street Library Controversy
www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/ho…068c3975?%3F

The Book of Dust
www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/…clusive-extract

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/…oidApp_Facebook

Islamophobia Teen Romance Novel
mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-31/…-romance/8574990

The Dark Tower
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjwfqXTebIY

Game of Thrones
www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/…winds-of-winter

Harry Potter News
www.pottermore.com/news/wizarding-…n-to-pottermore
www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-12/h…anic&sf78322054=1
www.buzzfeed.com/matthewchampion/…books#.ktAP7zvrq
www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-20/h…anic&sf80469336=1

Canberra & District Historical Society

Canberra and District Historical Society

Free Comic Book Day

Free Comic Book Day

Meg and Tom Keneally

Meg and Tom Keneally

Jenevieve Chang

Jenevieve Chang

Noted Writers Festival

Noted Festival Launch

Canberra Women Writers Network
www.facebook.com/canberrawomenwriters/

Pulpture
www.blemishbooks.com.au/pulpture/
kbreyd.com/pulpture

Blemish Books - Tinted Edges

Pulpture - Books

Tinted Edges Pulpture

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Aya of Yop City

I reviewed the first in this graphic novel series back in 2015. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I knew that there were others in the series, but for some reason I had gotten the idea that only the first had been translated into English. I was so surprised when I found a copy of this one in Canty’s graphic novel section and I bought it immediately.

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“Aya of Yop City” is a bandes dessinées by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie picks up almost immediately where the last one left off. It’s the 1970s in the unprecedented prosperous time of the African nation of the Ivory Coast. While Aya strives to become a doctor, she is roped into helping her friends deal with their dramas. Adjoua has had a baby and the identity of the father isn’t going to be a secret for long, while Bintou has been swept of her feet by a stranger from France who perhaps isn’t quite what he seems.

These graphic novels really are an absolute joy to read. A perfect blend of soapy drama, humour and culture, this series is as entertaining as it is educational. I liked the first one, but I felt like the story consolidated even more in this one. I remember I had some reservations about the artwork in the first one, but even that too has grown on me now. One of the things I was looking forward to the most was the afterword with some little cultural tidbits about life in the Ivory Coast and I wasn’t disappointed. In addition to a glossary, instructions on how to carry your baby on your back in a pagne and how babies and new mothers are welcomed back into the community after the birth was a new recipe for me to try. I actually outsourced the cooking on this one, and my partner made for me the chicken kedjenou which he liked so much he’s asked for it to be put on our rotating menu.

A delightful series that should be on the list for any lover of graphic novels, or anyone who wants to learn more about a different culture.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Graphic Novels

The Bluest Eye

Content Warning: this review contains discussion of fictional child sexual abuse. 

As I continue to try to real more diversely, I decided that it was finally time I gave Toni Morrison a go. Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature (among many, many others), I picked one of the two books I have of hers waiting on my shelf and gave it a read.

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“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison is a short novel set in a community in Ohio, USA in the early 1940s. African American sisters Claudia and Freida, 9 and 10 years old respectively, have begun to become aware of the social implications of skin colour, and conduct small rebellions against white-skinned dolls and lighter-skinned schoolmates. When another girl from the community named Pecola fosters with their family, the sisters are confronted with a new level of poverty and disadvantage. It is revealed right in the beginning of the story that Pecola has been impregnated by her own father. With a number of main characters, “The Bluest Eye” unpacks the circumstances that led to Pecola’s ultimate betrayal and abuse.

It’s no surprise that Morrison has won so many awards, she is an extremely talented writer with a particular gift for characterisation. First person narrator Claudia is an extremely likeable character and a great lens through which to begin the story. Morrison’s exploration into the psyche of Pecola’s parents is also well-done, and she manages to elicit a very uncomfortable empathy for Pecola’s father Cholly. Pecola herself maybe didn’t quite get a fair shake of the stick, and we only get a short and confusing glimpse into her perspective. The main difficulty I had with this book is that despite the excellent writing, some unique stylisation and the way it deals with important themes was the plot. The book is a bit more like a long, fictional memoir or essay without much of a narrative arc. I think this is compounded by the fact that the event the book is building up to is the graphic rape of a child by her father. Additionally, Morrison focuses a lot on bodily functions giving this book a very visceral feel. Maybe that’s the point: this book is more social commentary than it is parable. It is easy to imagine this story as a real series of events.

A well-written but troubling book, I’m very interested to read Morrison’s other novel “Beloved” to see how it compares.

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Filed under Book Reviews, General Fiction

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, I confess I hadn’t heard of this book until the author came to visit Canberra and speak at the National Library of Australia. Although softly-spoken, Madeleine Thien is clearly a passionate and deeply knowledgeable person. She very kindly signed a copy of her book for me and I was very much looking forward to reading it.

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“Do Not Say We Have Nothing” by Madeleine Thien is a family saga set in Mao’s China. Crossing a generation and a continent, the story is about a young Chinese-Canadian girl Marie and a mysterious girl called Ai-Ming who comes to live with Marie and her mother after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. As Marie learns more about Ai-Ming’s family, she grows to understand how they are connected and the lasting impact of the Chinese communist regime on the generations that survived.

This is one of those books where I’m really reluctant to say too much because I really don’t want to detract from the whole experience. Although it begins slowly, this book gradually unfurls into an extraordinarily beautiful novel. In fact, if you find you’re struggling with it in the beginning, I would strongly recommend that you put on the Goldberg Variations referenced so frequently to better ground yourself in the story. I also found the music better connected me to the characters, especially the beloved trio Zhuli, Sparrow and Kai.

I’ve read a number of books set around different aspects of Mao’s rule and the Cultural Revolution, and some excellent ones are Wolf Totem and The Four Books. This is the first one I have read that I have come away feeling like I now have a deep, nuanced and holistic understanding of the history and trauma of those tumultuous decades in China. This is also the first time I’ve seen an author pit two generations against one another in quite this way, capturing both how devastating and inspiring the power of the people can be when harnessed.

I think I might just about leave it there, except to say that this is a profound and beautifully written book that warms up to a crescendo ending that will leave you changed forever.

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Filed under Book Reviews, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Signed Books

Lost the Plot – Episode 14

Also available via iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/lost-the-plot-podacast/id1185190716

Seeking Tumnus YA Fiction Podcast
seekingtumnus.com/

World Builders
worldbuilders.org/page/fundraising
Michelle West books

Lost Rocks
Lost Rocks

The Great Book Swap – Indigenous Literacy Foundation
www.greatbookswap.org.au/

My New Bookshelf 😀
Book Shelf

Blemish Books – Pulpture
blemishbooks.com.au/news/index.shtml
blemishbooks.com.au/pulpture/index.…tform=hootsuite
WIP Pulpture

Banjo Paterson Park
Banjo Paterson Park

Banjo Paterson Bricks

Treasures from my Bookish Past

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Does anyone want these? Comment somewhere and I will send them.

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30 books!! I’m not making this up – people would have been sponsoring me like 20c a book.

 

 

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Hugo Award Finalists
www.worldcon.fi/wsfs/hugo-finalists/

Sad Puppies
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sad_Puppies

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award
www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/…d-wolf-erlbruch

Banned Books Week – 2016 Top Challenged Books
www.facebook.com/bannedbooksweek/…f=PAGES_TIMELINE

2016 Top Challenged Books
www.bustle.com/p/the-most-challe…leanor-park-50160

Aranda Primary School Decommissions Library
www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/ara…-gvtcpx.html

National Simultaneous Storytime
www.alia.org.au/nss#resources

Anita Heiss’ New Book
www.facebook.com/AnitaHeissAuthor…/?type=3&theater

Cleverman Graphic Novel
www.facebook.com/ClevermanTV/phot…/?type=3&theater

Tara Moss Working on New Book
www.facebook.com/taramossauthor/p…/?type=3&theater

Free Copies of the Handmaid’s Tale in NYC
www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/free-c…af6d718a3ee6

My Cousin Rachel
www.facebook.com/ViragoPress/vide…f=PAGES_TIMELINE

Berlin Syndrome
www.facebook.com/BerlinSyndromeAU…f=PAGES_TIMELINE

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Casting
www.facebook.com/pottermore/photo…/?type=3&theater
www.buzzfeed.com/eleanorbate/the-…books#.otw8edGB3

The Wheel of Time TV Series
variety.com/2017/tv/news/wheel-…tv-series-sony-1202

Kim Morton
feminartsy.com/unspoken-the-real…btqi-communities/

Apply to be a CBCA Judge
cbca.org.au/judges-judging

What’s In a Name by Myles Walsh
trove.nla.gov.au/work/213497657?s…sion=NBD58638784

Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe
www.goodreads.com/book/show/303422…from_search=true

Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr
www.goodreads.com/book/show/298660…from_search=true

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Filed under Lost the Plot, Uncategorized