Tag Archives: books

The Shepherd’s Hut

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of Harry Hartog.

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“The Shepherd’s Hut” by Tim Winton is about a teenage boy called Jaxie on the run from the dregs of a brutal start to life in a small Western Australian town. Escaping on foot, he ends up in a salt lake wasteland with dwindling supplies. When he has almost run out of food, water and ammunition, Jaxie comes across a shepherd’s hut, occupied by a stranded and mysterious elderly Irishman called Fintan. The two are very wary of each other, but come to an uneasy truce to not ask any questions about the other’s past. Fintan’s generosity with his basic larder of food, and his uncertainty about when, or even if, replacement supplies will arrive, means that they cannot permanently hide away from their world.

Although this was quite an easy book to read, it is a difficult book to review. The book is written in a kind of stream of consciousness narrative from the perspective of Jaxie, and this is without a doubt the highlight of the novel. Jaxie is a brilliant character full of untold complexity who is both the product of his upbringing as well as a fresh and unique voice. Winton portrays a young man with a sharp mind, one already full of knowledge and understanding if not education and experience. Jaxie’s raw, untempered thoughts are arresting, and hurtle the reader through the book. Although his words may paint him as a tough and harsh kid, it quickly becomes clear that Jaxie is very sentimental and craves to be seen as worthwhile.

This is definitely a book to make you think, and I have been thinking about it quite a bit since I read it, but I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. It’s a very compelling story, but some parts of it I felt were rushed or jammed on. In fact, I think I was in maybe the last eighth of the book, and I couldn’t believe it was about to end and couldn’t possibly see how everything would be resolve (or at least finalised).

I think the tenuous and cagey friendship between Jaxie and Fintan, the centrepiece of the book, was a prime example of this. Winton spends the majority of the book setting up the characters and putting them into a kind of routine, and then just when you felt like the friendship was about to become interesting, the book rushes into a ending that to me felt so coincidental and unlikely that it was jarring. I appreciate the technique of leaving a book open-ended, but I think how you get to that open end is important, and I’m not sure the final climax was really the best choice.

Tim Winton has been writing and speaking extensively about toxic masculinity, and I think for the most part that this book absolutely explores some of the nuances of expressing masculinity and what it means to be a man. However, again, the jarring ending meant that the message felt really muddled and I wasn’t quite sure what the point was anymore.

The language Winton used also obscured the purpose of the book and left me with a lot of questions about class and audience. Jaxie is styled with a very idiosyncratic, colloquial yet thoughtful way of speaking which is very engrossing. However, it also really made me wonder who exactly the audience of this book is intended to be. Is it meant to be for more privileged, metropolitan Australians to give them a taste of wild country life, or is it meant to make it more accessible to blue collar Australians and resonate with them through shared language? Is it meant to be both? I’m just not sure.

Anyway, I can’t really write too much more about this book without giving things away, but essentially this book was a smack around the head and my ears are still ringing. If you’re looking for something to make you think, make you feel and make your jaw drop, this is it. If you’re looking for a comfortable read, you’re not going to find it here.

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

South of Main Street

I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the author.

South of Main Street by [Gately, Robert]

“South of Main Street” by Robert Gately is a novel about a man called Henry Wolff who is a little bit strange. Prone to treating the outside of his house like an obstacle course and making inappropriate jokes at inappropriate times, he often exasperates his two daughters. When his wealthy wife dies, the question of how Henry is going to be cared for and a court hearing about financial guardianship drives a wedge between the two sisters. However, Henry’s not too bothered by all that. In a town where Main Street divides the well-to-do from the struggling, Henry starts to spend more time with those who are often overlooked.

The simplicity of this story belies the complexity of themes that are explored. Gately addresses the pressures that domestic violence, mental health, trauma, addiction, homelessness, poverty and death place on families and sensitively explores the strange legal beast that is guardianship. By using Henry as the lens through which we perceive his motley group of friends, Gately is able to leverage the idea of simple kindness to build empathy for people who are often marginalised. I think that while perhaps this book doesn’t delve too deeply into the psychology and socioeconomic reasons behind disadvantage, it nevertheless is persuasive through its depiction of decency through human interactions. I also thought that the fraught relationship between Robin and Sharon, the two sisters, was one of the strongest and most engaging parts of the book.

This book is very much about the day-to-day, and some parts of the book are a little slower in pace than others. I think quite a few of the conversations between Henry, Dixie (who is addicted to drugs) and Danny (who struggles with his father’s alcoholism and feelings of abandonment by his mother) are some of the more difficult parts to get through. However, I think that because of these little run-of-the-mill encounters, the book is quite relateable to people who have family stresses but need to get on with their daily lives nonetheless.

An interesting story with a strong message, I think this book does a thorough job of bringing to light some important social issues.

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Filed under Book Reviews, eBooks, General Fiction

The Velveteen Rabbit

It’s no secret how I feel about rabbits, so I thought I’d do a special little review for Easter and review one of my favourite childhood books.

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“The Veleveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson is a children’s chapter book about a toy rabbit who longs to be real. His friend, the Skin Horse, explains nursery magic to him and how a toy comes to be real through the love of a child. After a perfect summer as the Boy’s favourite, the Boy falls ill and the Velveteen Rabbit’s future is no longer certain.

I had this story on audiobook as a child, and reading this brought me straight back to being snuggled up in bed with my own menagerie of toys listening to a voice explaining to me how it was they became real. I was in tears almost the entire way through reading this book. If I have children, I will definitely read them this book if I can get through it without becoming choked up with emotion. It really is an absolute classic story, as relevant now as it was then. In fact, it is incredible that a story published 96 years ago now doesn’t have anything in it that would be considered inappropriate today. Williams has such a wonderful style of writing that manages to convey so much yet remain in childlike simplicity.

The copy I have, which is styled as ‘The Original Edition’, is interspersed with striking images in red, yellow and baby blue. These lithographs aren’t in a colour scheme I would ordinarily associate with children’s books, but they actually work really well. They give a warm vibrancy to the story and Nicholson captures the messiness of life and love as a child’s beloved soft toy.

I really cannot recommend this book enough. If you’re looking for an Easter story, or a story for any occasion for a child, you cannot go wrong with this one.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Children's Books, Classics

The Stolen Bicycle

This was the set book for the March Asia Bookroom book club. It has a beautifully understated cover design that hints at the contents but gives away very little. However something that is very telling is that it has been longlisted for the Man International Booker Prize.

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“The Stolen Bicycle” by Wu Ming-Yi and translated by Darryl Sterk is a literary novel set in and around Taiwan and explored over several decades. The narrator, an established author and bicycle enthusiast called Cheng, tells the story of his family. However, to tell the story of his family, a family whose history is made up of a succession of stolen bicycles, there are some things he has to track down. While he searches for answers about his father’s disappearance and unaccounted-for bicycle, he meets many interesting people along the way with their own usual stories.

A lot of people have recommended Murakami to me over the years as a master of storytelling and magic realism. This is better. Wu has an uncanny eye for finding the humanity in everything. This book draws out the heart of Taiwan and its history, but also goes to the soul of the human condition. This is a book about trust, kindness, loss, obsession, generosity and, above all, bicycles.

There are few criticisms to make about this book. However, I think some people may find it a little slow-paced and meandering at times. There are lots of stories interwoven throughout this book and it sometimes can be hard to find a common theme. However, ultimately, the reader’s attention is drawn back to the narrator’s favourite topic: the bicycle.

An excellently-written book and a brilliant insight into the diverse history and people of Taiwan. This book will linger with you for a long time and teach more than you ever thought possible about bicycles.

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Filed under Book Reviews, General Fiction, Magic Realism

Orlando

For those of you who listen to my book podcast Lost the Plot, you may be aware that I have a Patreon page where listeners can sign up for different reward tiers to help keep Lost the Plot on air. There are lots of different awards, and quite frequent giveaways. However, the top tier reward is The Bookworm where you, the listener, get the singular ability to choose a book for me to review. I currently have one patron on The Bookworm tier, her name is Kendall, and she nominated this book for me.

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“Orlando” by Virgina Woolf, is a book that really cannot be boxed neatly into a genre. Part love letter, part historical fiction, part magic realism, part gender exposé – none of these categories on their own quite do the novel justice. The story is about a young man called Orlando who grows up in a wealthy family in Elizabethan England. Both energetic and whimsical, Orlando has a number of love affairs and secretly longs to be a poet. However, after his heart is broken by a Russian princess, and a number of other social setbacks, Orlando flees England to work as Ambassador to Turkey. However, once there, Orlando undergoes a mysterious change and his – or her – life is never the same.

My first thought upon reading this book was how intricate and complex it is. This book is steeped with so much meaning, that it has pages upon pages of footnotes at the back to explain the personal significance of each of Woolf’s references. I’m not sure if it’s a testimony to the kinds of books I’ve been reading recently or a symptom of modern writing, but it has been a long time since I have read a book that felt like every single word was a deliberate choice. The writing really is spectacular and if you’re looking for inspiration for beautiful writing, you really can look no further than Woolf.

My second thought is that this is a deeply intimate book. There’s something almost voyeuristic about reading this book, because it makes the reader examine in minute detail the character of Orlando, who is modelled on Woolf’s friend and lover Vita Sackville-West. This makes it, thematically, a fascinating story about sexuality and gender. The introduction by Sandra M. Gilbert sheds further light on this by explaining that distinctions between being a lesbian and being transgender in the 1920s were much blurrier than they are today.

However, although it is an intricate and compelling book, it is not a perfect book and there were a few things that grated on me. First of all, you can tell it nearly 100 years old because the opening sentences include flippantly racist violence. Woolf describes a decapitated ‘Moor‘ and uses far, far worse terms at certain points throughout the novel and it was a pretty appalling way to start a book.

Another issue for me was less about inappropriate content and more about plot and pace. I think perhaps because this book is so closely modeled on the life and family history of Woolf’s lover, there was some sacrificing when it came to the book’s plot. The story meanders through the ages, more a comment on the societies of Vita’s various ancestors than a cohesive story. In fact, because there were so many footnotes in my edition explaining each reference to something in Woolf’s or Vita’s life, it took me quite a while to get through this book because I kept flipping back to read each note.

Ultimately though, this is a beautifully-written, intimate and insightful novel that says a lot about society then and now. What it lacks in story arc, it makes up for with language.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Classics

Lost the Plot – Episode 22

Support Lost the Plot
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Show Notes

Book Updates

Australian Podcast Awards
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Libraries ACT Reading Challenge
Download challenge here

75 Books Recommended by Ursula K. Le Guin
Bookriot article

Sally from Asia Bookroom named New President of International League of International Antiquitarian Booksellers
Episode 8 with Sally
Episode 19 with Sally
Fine Books Magazine write up

Books for the World

Street Libraries on Gardening Australia
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Missing Street Library in Newtown
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Story Dogs
Libraries ACT website

Returning the Favour – Get Focused Program
Watch the episode on Facebook

Sekolah Gunung Merapi: Building Hope from the Ashes
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Books for the World
The original campaign
Episode 13

Book News

Canberra Libraries Flooded (content warning: damaged books)
Canberra Times article
Second Canberra Times article
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ABC News article

Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards announced
The Guardian article

Stella Prize 2018 Shortlist
Full shortlist

2018-19 Children’s Laureate Announced
Children’s Laureate Website
ABC article

Aurealis Awards
Full list of finalists

Golden Man Booker Prize
Man Booker Prize website

Shakespeare Plagiarism Software
New York Times article

Mysterious Manuscript at the National Library of Australia
NLA Facebook post

“Welcome to Country” by Aunty Joy Murphy
Watch the Matter of Fact excerpt on facebook

“Marvelous Miss May: Queen of the Circus” by Stephanie Owen Reeder
Canberra Times article

“Tempests and Slaughter” by Tamora Pierce
Hatchette Australia facebook post

“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier – 80th Anniversary edition
Virago Press facebook video
Virago Press photo essay
The Guardian article

“Silent Invasion” by Clive Hamilton
Hardie Grant facebook post
ABC News article

“Growing Up Black in Australia” by Anita Heiss
Anita Heiss’ website

“A Miniature Christmas Anthology”
Christmas Press facebook post

“The Outsider” by Stephen King
Hachette Australia facebook post

“No Country Woman” by Zoya Patel
Hachette website

“Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts
Deadline article

Fahrenheit 451 Teaser Trailer
MHP Books website

“Working Class Boy” by Jimmy Barnes
The Book Club ABC facebook post

“The War of the Worlds” by H G Wells
The Verge article

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Trailer
Watch on Studio Canal’s facebook page

Picnic at Hanging Rock Date Reveal
Foxtel website

An Epic Tale of Redwall Computer Game
Steam listing

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – Kindle in Motion
Pottermore facebook post

The Crimes of Grindelwald – Dumbledore’s Sexuality
The Independent’s article

Rose McGowan book event controversy
The Independent’s article

Book Censorship in Western Australian school
ABC News article

Lionel Shriver on ‘political correctness gone mad’
The Guardian’s article

Claire G. Coleman on ownership of stories
The Guardian’s article

Terry Goodkind publicly criticises own cover art
Screenshot
Joanne Harris’ commentary on Twitter
Goodkind’s ‘apology’

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on reading to his grandkids
Facebook post
News.com article

Drag Queen Story Hour
Sputnik News article

 

Interactive Fiction

Felicity Banks
Author website

Choice of Games – Felicity is writing an official story for them but is not associated or affiliated with them in any way
Website

Felicity’s Interactive Fiction
The Interactive Fiction Database

Hosted Games
Webpage

Choice Script
Webpage

Penguin Qantas Somerset College National Novella Writing Competition for School Age Students
Website

“Heart of Brass” and “After the Flag Fell”
Odyssey Books website

Peter Lalor
Wiki

Other Steampunk
Della Mortika series
Madeiline D’este
“Ichabod Hart and the Lighthouse Mystery” by James Roy
Richard Harland
Michael Pryor

Choices that Matter, Tinman Games
App in Google Play store

Odyssey Books
Website
Publisher Obscura

Hunt A Killer Boxes
Website

Laura E. Goodin
Website

Murder in the Mail
Kickstarter campaign
murderinthemailstories@gmail.com
Messageboard

Book Events

World Read Aloud Day
Website

Library Lover’s Day
Australian School Library Association post
Books on the Rail Blind Date with a Book
Queanbeyan Library Event

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Canberra Times article

Canberra Lifeline Book Fair
Canberra Times article

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Upcoming book fair dates

Stephanie Parkyn at Harry Hartog
Event

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“Egyptian Enigma” Book Launch
NLA Event

50 Years of the Library Building
NLA Event

The ANU/Canberra Times Meet the Author Series
Upcoming events

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Filed under Lost the Plot, Uncategorized

Festival Muse

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This long weekend just past had a lot of things going on in Canberra, but one of the most exciting was the second annual Festival Muse. Muse is several things: bookshop, cafe, restaurant and wine bar but it is especially a venue for fantastic literary events. The schedule was jam-packed over four days and I managed to get along to two very interesting talks.

Turn Me On – Festival Opening

The opening event was at 6pm on Friday 9 March 2018. I had just finished a very long week at work, and so I very pleased to be ushered in with a glass of wine so I could take a seat and watch some intellectual weightlifting.

There were five speakers at this event from a broad range of backgrounds, experiences and beliefs and each gave a short monologue about what kick-started their engines and got them passionate about their chosen fields.

The first speaker was Michael Brissenden, ABC journalist and author, who is one of those rare people who actually grew up in Canberra in the 1960s. The Canberra nightlife wasn’t then what it is now, and people had to make their own fun. He described the house party culture as one of “cheerful desperation” – full of politicians and poetry, drunks and musicians. Brissenden read from his father’s book of ballads about Canberra, “Gough and Johnny Were Lovers“.

Next was Zoya Patel, editor of Feminartsy (a magazine I contribute to) and soon to be published author. While acknowledging the special kind of “affluent, privileged political echo chamber that is Canberra”, Patel nevertheless found plenty of opportunities while growing up to “keep the pilot light of her feminism burning”. Growing up in an Indian-Fijian household, Patel was an early adopter of feminism and began writing from a young age. When she became an editor for Lip Magazine, she witnessed the onslaught and impact of internet trolls against her writers first hand. Patel said that feminism is not about the individual but about the sisterhood and this experience motivated her to lift up her writers’ voices even more.

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The third speaker was not a writer, but conductor and musical director Roland Peelman. Peelman acknowledged early that he is a musician, a job of “no great political feat or activitism”. Rather, the is more interested in how music can bring people together with their hearts beating at the same pace. Peelman was born in Belgium, and reflected on the differences in politics between his native home and adopted home. He reflected that in politics, despite what people may think, compromise is not disfunctional and messy can be functional because an untidy government means making room for minorities. Coming back to his music, Peelman said that traditional formulas of economic rationalism do not necessarily apply even though he has encountered plenty of skepticism about how his organisations would remain sustainable. Art isn’t about satisfying shareholders, it has different objectives, and Peelman finished on the note that music is about building community.

The next speaker was neither writer nor musician, but local politician Elizabeth Lee MLA. Lee began by saying that even if her political beliefs are different, she still felt like she has lots in common with the other speakers. She drew parallels with Patel’s experiences and said that in her family, a Korean family with three daughters, her dad was the original feminist. Lee said that he would tell her that as the oldest, she was the needle and her sisters were the thread and where she goes her sisters will follow. After progressing in her legal career in both private practice and as a lecturer, Lee decided to follow her passions of organising people and getting people involved and run for the ACT Legislative Assembly. Lee has also experienced her fair share of sexist and racist online trolling, however has found that her firm responses have been a source of inspiration for young Asian women.

The final speaker for the evening was ACT Marriage Equality campaign director, Jacob White. He opened with a question: why are people into politics? For White, he was born into it. As the middle child with two sisters either side, he was born to be an agitator. He was also inspired by his Nanna and her disability advocacy for her daughter, White’s aunty. Although raised among political attitudes limited to “Paul Keating is an arrogant prick, John Howard is a weirdo and Mark Latham is a psychopath”, from an early age White was writing letters to his local council complaining about lantana in his cubby house. Using that gumption as a springboard, he eventually found himself leading the charge for marriage equality in Canberra.

After such a diverse array of speakers, the formal part of the event closed and Muse opened the restaurant area up with drinks and canapes. It was a great evening with plenty of opportunity for me to pursue one of my favourite hobbies: telling strangers what books they should be reading.

The Burning Issues of Now

Like a little bookend, the second event I went to was on Monday 13 March – the other side of the festival. Three panelists, journalist Gabrielle Chan, writer Siv Parker and reporter, presenter and broadcaster Dan Bouchier settled in for a robust discussion on what is going to be the next “big issue” in Australia now the marriage equality campaign is done and dusted.

Now, I must admit here that I was so captivated by the discussion that I actually didn’t take especially good notes, but on top of the list for Parker’s burning issues was the treatment of Aboriginal women. Parker reflected on her own upbringing as an Aboriginal woman in black-soil country in north-western New South Wales and Bouchier compared his own experiences in Tenant Creek, Northern Territory – “the Red Centre”. Parker explained that during her professional life working around the country, one constant that she has seen among Aboriginal women from all backgrounds is that they feel like they don’t have the opportunities to do what they want to do with their lives.

One of the biggest issues standing in their way is domestic and family violence, which Aboriginal women experience and even die from at far higher rates than other Australian women. Family violence has unavoidable spill-on effects on children’s outcomes as well. The panelists turned then to two issues that have been flooding the media: Aboriginal kids in youth detention and Aboriginal kids in care.

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Bouchier talked about the reaction to the terrible crime that happened in Tenant Creek recently, and the erroneous conflation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being in out of home care at 10 times the rate of non-Indigenous children and the Stolen Generation. Parker explained that where the Stolen Generation was the result of a racist policy designed to make a generation of servants, the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in care is an issue tied to trauma and disadvantage.

Bouchier noted the reluctance of governments and media to explore these issues deeply due to a fear of not being politically correct. Chan said that as a journalist following the schedules of politicians, having to get across and report on multiple issues in a day with only limited opportunities to get a question in, it’s very difficult to report on issues in very great detail. The panelists talked about the many, many Royal Commissions that are supposed to investigate these issues in depth, but that even those get manipulated and the recommendations which are handed down can be ignored for decades.

The panelists then turned to last year’s historic Uluru Statement From the Heart, which, despite being a statement achieved from a convention of 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders from around the country, was dismissed by the Government. However, despite it not turning out to be the magic solution, the panelists were hopeful that this is not the end and that the Uluru Statement feels more like a strong beginning.

Both Turn Me On and The Burning Issues of Now were great, thought-provoking events with engaged, diverse speakers. Even though it’s only been a day, I can’t wait to see what Festival Muse 2019 brings.

If you want another perspective, check out Whispering Gums‘ post.

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Filed under Literary Events