‘Fishing in the Styx’ by Ruth Park

I chose to read this book this week because of Wad Holloway’s Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week. I picked the book up a couple of years ago in a charity shop, having read several of Ruth Park’s books over the years, including her first autobiography – ‘A Fence Around the Cuckoo’. I really enjoyed this second volume of her life, which included graphic descriptions of Ruth’s life with her husband D’Arcy Niland, whose works I have also enjoyed. Their relationship was obviously strong despite many stresses including years of poverty, but Ruth used her experiences of this life to describe the lives of the people around her in the slums of Sydney, as well as in outback Australia, and she did this very effectively, giving us all an insight not only into the difficulties facing disadvantaged people, but also the humanity of those people. This book was written towards the end of Ruth’s life, after the death of D’Arcy, which was clearly devastating for her. The other fascinating aspect of the book was the insight into the difficulties faced by independent/freelance writers, and the cavalier treatment of them by canny publishers/film executives. Overall a great read.

My other option for this week was Tiburon, by Kylie Tennant, but I will be reading that later in the year. This was a copy I picked out from my uncle’s bookshelf after he died in 2018 – I think it is a first edition. I know it was originally published in serial form in the Bulletin, but my version is a hardback published in 1935, and still has the original (damaged) dustjacket. Interestingly, it also has a message inside from my Grandfather to “Will”, dated Christmas Day 1935. Perhaps it never made its way to Will, or was returned somehow. A mystery.

Classics Club Spin #22

Well, the lucky number for this spin was 13, which was especially lucky for me, as I had already started reading #13 on my list – Best Short Stories by Jack London. Some years ago I noticed that Jack London always appeared on American lists of best all-time books, and yet I had never heard of him. So, I downloaded his two most famous books, The Call of the Wild, (1903) and White Fang (1906), and enjoyed them both. Last year when my 86 year old childless uncle died, we were invited to help ourselves to anything left in his apartment, so I greedily fell on the books, and carted a large bagful of classics home from Sydney to Perth. One of the books was this collection of short stories. In general I really enjoy short stories, but after reading the first few in this book, was becoming a bit bored as they were all set in the Klondike during the gold rush era, and were all about extreme cold and suffering. Luckily I continued though, because later stories involved other settings, such as Hawaii and the South Pacific.

London is particularly good at describing survival (or not) under extreme conditions, including intense cold, starvation, and supremely destructive hurricanes. He is also especially adept at describing animals and their behaviour, to the extent that you have an understanding of the animals’ points of view.

Overall this is an excellent collection, though probably best dipped into over time, rather than read cover to cover as I did. It gives a great picture of the harshest aspects of the life of adventurers more than 100 years ago in remote parts of the world, and Jack London really does know how to write. I am glad to have discovered him.

2019 Reading Stats

New laptop skin!

This past year I have been ridiculously obsessive about keeping records of my reading, so here are the stats:

I read a total of 104 books, 86 of which were from my physical collection of books not yet read. Unfortunately, during the year I added 131 books to my shelves (eek!), so I am starting 2020 with a physical TBR of 221, and a resolution to avoid charity shops as much as possible this year (no hope of avoiding them altogether – they are such goldmines!)

Of those 104 books read, 29% were by Australian authors (40% of whom were women), 43% by women authors, 13% by persons of colour.

10% were classics, 8 were books in translation, and there were 10 books of more than 500 pages (2 were more than 600 pages). 21% were non-fiction, of which most were memoir or biography.

I am anticipating that this year will be fairly similar, (apart from the book buying problem), though I have some time-consuming activities happening this year (first grandbaby due in May).

I have signed up for several Goodreads challenges yet again – this does help me to tackle books I do want to read but would otherwise deprioritize. I am already known as the complete book nerd, so I might as well go the whole hog.

Happy reading in 2020 everyone!

My Year in Books – 2019

This is an idea that I have seen in several blogs, but most are referring back to Laura. It’s fun – you need to answer questions using the titles of books you have read this year. Here is my list:

In high school I was The Reader (Bernhard Schlink)

People might be surprised by The Single Ladies of the Jacaranda Retirement Village (Joanna Nell)

I will never be A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)

My fantasy job is Letters From Father Christmas (JRR Tolkien)

At the end of a long day I need Normal People (Sally Rooney)

I hate Illegal Action (Stella Rimington)

Wish I had Cakes and Ale (W Somerset Maugham)

My family reunions are Remember Me? (Sophie Kinsella)

At a party you’d find me with Your Blue-Eyed Boy (Helen Dunmore)

I’ve never been to The House of the Spirits (Isabel Allende)

A happy day includes River Journeys (Russell Braddon, Germaine Greer & others)

Motto I live by: Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused (Howard Goldblatt ed.)

On my bucket list is The Little Breton Bistro (Nina George)

In my next life, I want to have Black Opal (Katharine Susannah Prichard)

Classics Club spin…

I joined with the last spin but didn’t read my book, so I am having another go. The task involves making a list of 20 books still remaining on your classics list. On 22 December, a number will be posted from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 31st January, 2020.

My Book Spin List for the Classics Club

1. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
2. The Englishwoman in America – Isabella Bird
3. Lorna Doone – RD Blackmore
4. The Story of the Stone V2 – The Crab-Flower Club – Cao Xueqin
5. Walkabout – Charles & Elsa Chauvel
6. Tales from the Thousand and One Nights
7. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
8. Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
9. The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling – Henry Fielding
10. I, Claudius – Robert Graves
11. Notre-Dame of Paris – Victor Hugo
12. The Yellow Joss and Other Tales – Ion L Idriess
13. Best Short Stories – Jack London
14. Dr Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
15. The Shipping News – E Annie Proulx
16. Old Mortality – Walter Scott
17. Alexander’s Path – Freya Stark
18. The Stories of Robert Louis Stevenson
19. Tiburon – Kylie Tennant
20. Fathers and Sons – Ivan Turgenev

The Shiralee

by D’arcy Niland

This is an Australian classic, published in 1955, but set during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when many men roamed the countryside on foot looking for work. The book is about a man who finds himself caring for his 4-year old daughter on the road. He resents the fact that she is a shiralee, a burden, who not only slows him down but also makes it hard for him to go drinking in the pub, take on certain jobs, and get involved with women. On the other hand, he slowly realises that she is good company and that they really care for one another. The slow development of the very strong relationship between father and daughter is charming, and beautifully told. The swagmen lived a very tough life, but there was a culture of support and genuine willingness to help others in need, always paid forward somewhere down the line – this is something that was essential back then, but is sadly lacking in our modern times. I have always enjoyed reading about life in early Australia, and this little gem is well worth reading. The story was made into a movie and a tv series, both of which I saw many years ago, but as ever, the book is the standout.

I read this for the Goodreads Around the Year Challenge for week 44 – a book related in some way to a tv series or movie you have enjoyed. It is also one I have now ticked off from my Classics Club list.

The Best Short Stories by Rudyard Kipling

I remember enjoying several novels by Rudyard Kipling (especially Kim) years ago, so was interested to read his short stories. This version was put together in 1997, but the stories were originally published in other collections between 1891 and 1904. I was quite disappointed – many of the stories are so out-of-date now as to be irrelevant, but despite that, I wasn’t even enjoying the writing very much, or the references to life in India. Settings do attract me to books, and, having travelled in India back in the 1970s as well as more recently, I can relate to descriptions of the climate/weather, the caste system, the food, etc, but somehow many of these stories left me cold. There were some that were amusing, and a couple that I really enjoyed (sorry, I have already forgotten which ones), but overall I found this book somewhat irritating. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood and/or my expectations were too high.

This book was the third completed of my Classics Club list.