Walkabout

by Charles and Elsa Chauvel

The Chauvels were well-known film-makers in Australia in the first half of the 20th century – their last project was a series of tv programmes for the BBC, and this book was published in 1959 to accompany it. I know it is a fairly rare book because it didn’t exist on Goodreads until I added it! The couple spent some months travelling mostly by road, but also occasionally by train, small plane and helicopter, from Sydney across to South Australia and up north to Darwin. They visited many large properties, interviewing various station managers, workers, aboriginal communities and families living in the outback , including opal miners at Coober Pedy. They took part in the School of the Air, both in the head office in Alice Springs, and also while visiting families, and accompanied the Royal Flying Doctor Service on several trips. They often stayed at the stations, but also often camped. The book is written in the first person by both authors – Charles mostly describing the lives of the men (he worked as a jackeroo in early life) and Elsa more involved with the lives of women and children. They were both very interested and sympathetic towards indigenous people – they cast aboriginal actors in starring roles in their most famous film, Jedda (1955), and filming was done under difficult conditions on location in the Northern Territory. In this book they were admiring of those who still lived a traditional life, but quite derogatory about “half-castes” who they saw as giving the “full-blood abos” a bad name. The language is very dated – often cringe-worthy, but overall this is a very interesting record of life and travels in the outback during the 1950s.

I read this book as the 11th in my Classics Club Challenge, and also for the Goodreads Around the Year Challenge (#29 – an underrated book, a hidden gem or lesser-known book), and for the Goodreads Classics Challenge (#11 – non-fiction).

Tiburon

by Kylie Tennant

Tiburon is an Australian classic, published in 1935, about life in a small country town in NSW during the Depression. It was a book bought by my Grandfather and with a dedication to my Great-Grandfather for Christmas 1935. I acquired it after my uncle died a couple of years ago and we were clearing out. I also read Tennant’s autobiography last year, so knew of her interest in social disadvantage and the efforts she went to in researching her books. She travelled and lived in country areas during the Depression as the itinerants did, and even spent some time in gaol for research. Her writing in this novel is very evocative of the lives of families and the ways they are affected by not only their poverty, and often the alcoholism of the father figure, but also their social position. Tiburon was Kylie Tennant’s first published novel, and is well worth reading, as are her later works.

I read this book as the 10th in my Classic Club Challenge, but also for the Goodreads Around the Year Challenge (#28 – book by an Australian, Canadian or NZ author), and the Goodreads Classics Challenge (#9 – written by a woman).

Northanger Abbey

by Jane Austen

I finished this back in April, but as usual have fallen very behind with my blogging. As blogging takes up too much time in writing when I could be reading, I am only going to record the classics here for the time being.

I read Northanger Abbey for several challenges – the 8th in my 5 year long Classics Club Challenge (read 50 classics in 5 years), my Goodreads 2020 Around the Year Challenge (#14 – a book by an author on the Abe List of 100 Essential Female Writers), Goodreads Classics Challenge (#3 – takes place in a country other than where you live), and Goodreads Reading Women Challenge (#11 – read & watch a book to movie adaptation). I read most of Jane Austen’s books as a teenager, and never enjoyed her as much as George Eliot, Dickens, Thackeray, or the Brontes – Austen’s books always struck me as rather insipid. However, when I came across a second-hand copy of Northanger Abbey, which I don’t think I had read before, I leapt in, and really enjoyed it! It is a short, amusing, and satisfying story, with some laugh out loud moments. Soon after finishing the book I watched the movie, and enjoyed that as well. The characters are all rather stereotypical, but that’s not really a problem, and the settings are well-described and interesting, especially the episodes in Bath, which I visited years ago. Entertaining, and heartily recommended!

Tales from the Thousand and One Nights

Edited by NJ Dawood

This summary is copied from Goodreads:

The tales told by Scheherazade over a thousand and one nights to delay her execution by the vengeful King Shahryar have become among the most popular in both Eastern and Western literature. From the epic adventures of ‘Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp’ to the farcical ‘Young Woman and her Five Lovers’ and the social criticism of ‘The Tale of the Hunchback’, the stories depict a fabulous world of all-powerful sorcerers, jinns imprisoned in bottles and enchanting princesses. But despite their imaginative extravagance, the Tales are also anchored to everyday life by their bawdiness and realism, providing a full and intimate record of medieval Eastern world.

In this selection, N.J. Dawood presents the reader with an unexpurgated translation of the finest and best-known tales, preserving their spirited narrative style in lively modern English. In his introduction, he discusses their origins in the East and their differences from Classical Arabic literature, and examines English translations of the tales since the eighteenth century.

I really loved reading these stories, and the way each one led to the next – I had no idea really despite hearing some of the stories over the years. It was fun to dip into, though I read it quite quickly, over the space of about two weeks, with a couple of other books in between. Highly recommended.

I read this at the end of 2019 for the Popsugar Challenge topic ‘a book inspired by mythology, legend or folklore’, and it was also one from my Classics Club list.

The Good Shepherd by CS Forester

This book is about 48 hours in the life of a warship in peril in the north Atlantic Ocean during WW2. It is told from the Commander’s point of view – he is shepherding a convoy of ships through submarine-infested waters, and there is lots of description about the ship, controls, difficult decisions, exhaustion etc, which I mostly found quite tedious.

I finished the book right at the end of 2019 (yes, I am very slow getting my blog posts written), and read it for the Popsugar prompt ‘a book being turned into a movie in 2019’. I think the movie is likely to be better than the book, especially if it focuses on the emotional stress the Commander experiences. All the ship and ocean description would be easily absorbed visually. As the book was published in 1955, I have included it in my Classics Club list as well.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

I have loved Dickens since I was taken to see the musical ‘Oliver’ when I was 12, and my Dad told me it was based on a book… Oliver Twist was my transition from Enid Blyton to adult literature, and Dickens has been a favourite ever since, though it is now many years since I have read him. I have two incomplete sets of Dickens, both sets published in the early 20th century and inherited from elderly relatives, so all books have very thin pages and very small print, which these days is a bit of a problem for me.

It turned out I had never read Our Mutual Friend, so when it came up in the most recent Classics Club spin, I plunged in. It was quite hard work with 779 pages of tiny print, so I read several other books in between, but what a joy it was. It reignited my passion for Dickens and his remarkable facility with words – his descriptions of characters are often hilarious, and though many of the characters are caricatures or stereotypes, they do relate very well with people we all know and meet in contemporary life. This book was written more than 150 years ago, so some of the social conditions represented seem quite unbelievable, but the themes are still very relevant. Money can’t buy happiness but can destroy it, family relationships can be extremely difficult, alcoholism is ruinous, etc.

I loved this book, and it has inspired me to add more Dickens to my reading list, despite the fact that I have so many more contemporary novels on my TBR. It is sad that so few younger people attempt these wonderful classics.

This was the 9th classic work read from my Classics Club list.

Classics Club Spin #23

This is my 3rd attempt at the spin, and here is my list:

1Bird, IsabellaThe Englishwoman in America
2Blackmore, RDLorna Doone 
3Cao, XueqinThe Story of the Stone V2 – The Crab-Flower Club
4Chauvel, Charles & ElsaWalkabout
5Defoe, DanielRobinson Crusoe
6Dickens, CharlesOur Mutual Friend
7Fielding, HenryThe History of Tom Jones: A Foundling
8Graves, RobertI, Claudius
9Harrower, ElizabethThe Watchtower
10Hugo, VictorNotre-Dame of Paris
11Idriess, Ion   LThe Yellow Joss and Other Tales
12James, HenryThe Portrait of a Lady
13Maugham, W SomersetOf Human Bondage
14Pasternak, BorisDr Zhivago
15Proulx, E AnnieThe Shipping News
16Scott, WalterOld Mortality
17Stark, FreyaAlexander’s Path
18Stevenson, RLThe Stories of Robert Louis Stevenson
19Tennant, KylieTiburon
20Turgenev, IvanFathers and Sons

‘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!