#BookBingo2020 – Coming of Age

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Today is round two of Book Bingo 2020 hosted by Theresa, Amanda and Ashleigh, and I am crossing off the Coming of Age box with A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs. I have quite enjoyed reading this series and am now onto book five, The Conference of the Birds, published just this year. A Map of Days was also the feature of my last Book Snap which you can check out here, if you like old clocks and vintage snapshots.

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Jacob is back where his story began, in Florida. Except now Miss Peregrine, Emma and their peculiar friends are with him, and doing their best to blend in. But carefree days of beach visits and normalling lessons are soon interrupted by a discovery… Now the stakes are higher than ever as Jacob and his friends are thrust into the untamed landscape of American peculiardom – a world with few ymbrynes, or rules – that none of them yet understand.”

Book four of the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series continues Jacob’s story as he comes to grips with his place in the peculiar world. His peculiar friends have lived most of their life under the protection of the ymbrynes, trapped in a time loop where they never age. But now they are in the real world and the relationship between the ymbrynes and their charges, now ageing normally one day at a time, will start to be tested. Taking risks, rebelling against authority and navigating the minefield of first love are all part and parcel of that messy journey we call coming of age. 

 

Gaia Reading Challenge 2020 – Watership Down

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Sharon from Gum Trees and Galaxies is hosting a reading challenge this year that is most appropriate for these times. The Gaia Reading Challenge draws our attention to books, both fiction and non-fiction, that focus on an environmental theme. The environment is high on the agenda these days, as it should be. From the catastrophic fires we have experienced in Australia  to one of the worst droughts in our history, together with the international  challenges we face due to climate change, there is no better time to educate ourselves about the world that we live in and be inspired by the beauty of nature.

The challenge is not onerous, designed to be both flexible and inclusive, so if you are a keen reader, a nature lover or just concerned about the impact we are having on our environment, I encourage you to read about Gaia 2020 here.

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Gaia is the name of a primordial Greek Goddess who was seen as the ancestral mother of all life. She also had a very interesting sex life which you can read about here.

During the 1970s Gaia also became the name for a scientific hypothesis about the relationship between organisms and their environment. In simple terms, it suggests that organisms co-evolve with their environment. The environment influences the organism, and the organism influences the environment. Apparently it’s a bit controversial, although the gist of it made sense to me, but then,  I’m not a scientist.  

My first read for the Gaia Reading challenge is Watership Down by Richard Adams which I wrote a little about in my last Book Snap Post. You can read about that here. 

 

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I really enjoyed reading Watership Down but it does raise questions about how we manage the natural environment. The destruction of the rabbit warren is violent – poison gas, shootings, blocking up escape routes. No rabbit was intended to escape. It makes you wonder about this kind of thinking. When something is in the way of human progress, just tear it down, blow it up, desecrate and eradicate. Leave no sign of previous occupants. Wildlife is expendable.

Of course, the heroic band of rabbits in Watership Down do survive against the odds, finding a new home, fighting off the villains, and discovering unexpected friends along the way.

Rabbits are a bit of a contentious issue in Australia. As an introduced species they have caused considerable damage on the natural environment and on the native species. Over the years there have been a variety of different strategies used to try to control the population: the introduction of diseases such as Myxomatosis (1950s) and the Calicivirus (1990s); the erection of rabbit-proof fences in WA & QLD;  as well as poisoning, shooting, trapping and just ripping up the warrens with machinery,  dismembering and burying rabbits alive in the process. Yes, rabbits have caused and continue to cause a lot of damage, but these are mostly very cruel ways of dying. Is there no humane way of managing pest populations?

 

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In contrast, rabbits are apparently so rare in Southern Europe that it is causing conservation problems for species higher up the food chain!

I confess that I have a soft spot for rabbits. When I was younger, growing up in SA,  I had pet rabbits – but only one at a time! My rabbits were cute fluffy white angoras with pink eyes. The first one I had came from a friend who was moving away. He was a long-haired Angora, but he wasn’t used to being handled so we could never catch him. But my second rabbit we had since he was a baby, so he was very tame but also somewhat tenacious. You can see the photos of him below, on top of his hutch and in the Apricot tree.

Here in QLD we are not allowed to have pet rabbits. I understand the threat, though I feel a bit sad. Pet rabbits are usually quite timid.  I suspect they wouldn’t last long in the wild even if they did escape!

Wild rabbits are a different matter, of course. But it’s a tricky thing trying to balance the conservation and protection of the environment and native species on the one hand, without resorting to cruel practices on the other.

 

 

 

 

#BookSnapSunday – Bliss

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This week’s book snap is Peter Carey’s debut novel, Bliss, first published in 1981 and winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Carey is one of my favourite Australian authors, and while Bliss is proving to be an interesting read, it is probably not for every reader. Awaking after heart surgery, Harry Joy, is convinced he is in Hell. Suddenly he can see his family and the world the way they really are and it is a startling shock. For Harry, there is a clear definition between life before surgery, where it seems he was living in a state of ignorant bliss, and life after, where all has been revealed. And he is not happy. It will be interesting to see how things turn out for Harry.

In keeping with the idea of bliss, the book is photographed with some of the things that give me a sense of bliss – nature, good books and a glass of red.

 

#BookBingo2020 – A Classic I’ve Never Read

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This year I am joining in once again with the Book Bingo Reading Challenge hosted by Theresa, Mrs B and Ashleigh (The Book Muse). It’s been simplified this year with just 12 squares, one for each month of the year, and a range of themes which could be easily applied to both fiction and non-fiction. The Bingo card is a very pretty and sparkly pink, purple and blue, that is perfect for celebrating the beginning of the 2020’s.

I  quite enjoy reading the classics but I had not read The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James despite having seen the movie starring Nicole Kidman. I usually prefer to read the book before I see the film, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.  First published in 1881, The Portrait of a Lady, revolves around Isabel Archer, a young American woman, who has come to England to travel, to experience life in Europe and get to know the relatives she never knew. Isabel is bright, confident and determined to experience life while preserving her independence and liberty.

However, after inheriting a large fortune on the death of her uncle, Isabel becomes caught in the machinations of two people: one a supposed friend, Madame Merle; the other, Mr Osmond, the man who becomes her husband. Tragically Isabel finds her freedom, independence and spirit cruelly crushed in a restrictive and oppressive marriage.

Independence is a theme throughout the novel. At a time when marriage was seen as the ultimate ambition and career for a woman, and usually a material necessity, Isabel’s inheritance grants her financial independence. But what does it mean to be independent? This question is raised quite early in the book.

…is it used in a moral or in a financial sense? Does it mean that they have been left well off, or that they wish to be under no obligations? Or does it simply mean that they are fond of their own way?

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, independent can mean all of that and more, including….

 not influenced by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself 

Isabel prides herself on being completely independent in her decision making. Even as she recognises the role that her friend, Madame Merle, played in her marriage, Isabel clings to her belief that she has acted independently.

It was impossible to pretend that she had not acted with her eyes open; if ever a girl was a free-agent, she had been…the sole source of her mistake had been within herself…she had looked, and considered, and chosen.

Is it possible to be a free agent? Can we really act or choose completely independently, without any sense of obligation or influence? Growing up we are exposed to the influences, both implicit and explicit, of our family, our society, our education, the media, and the world around us. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we are the sum of a complex mix of inherent tendencies, experience and influence. Even when we think we are making an independent decision, there’s a whole lot of previous experience and influence that unconsciously guides us in the way that we think and act.    

The most tragic part of Isabel’s story though is not only her stubbornness in believing she must accept her fate but that she cannot bring herself to admit she made a mistake.

“I don’t know whether I am too proud. But I can’t publish my mistake. I don’t think that’s decent. I would much rather die.”

Does Isabel remain trapped in a miserable marriage or does she reclaim her independence and liberty?

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#Book Snap on a Tuesday – That Deadman Dance

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Gumbi Gumbi Gardens, USQ, Toowoomba

I am running a little behind with this week’s Book Snap, but better late than never. That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2011 and is pictured above in the Gumbi Gumbi Gardens at USQ in Toowoomba. Set in Western Australia, the book’s central focus is Bobby, a young aboriginal boy, during the early years of British colonisation. Bobby is encouraged by his family to develop close relationships with the white strangers so that he can learn things from them.

I was raised to be proud and to be friendly…My family thought we could be friends and share what we had.

Towards the end of his life, though, Bobby reflects on his earlier youthful optimism and the moment when he

…opened his eyes properly. There were no more of his people and no more kangaroo and emu and no more vegetable. After the white man’s big fires and guns and greed there was nothing.

Scott notes that some historians regard the Albany area as the “friendly frontier”, which raises all sorts of questions. What if friendly first contact had not escalated into a war of extermination? What if the British had recognised the sovereignty of Australia’s First People? What if they had been willing to share?

That Deadman Dance is the first book by Kim Scott that I have read and it won’t be the last. Highly recommended.

The Gumbi Gumbi Gardens were established at USQ to help  develop “a better understanding of local Indigenous heritage” (Gumbi Gumbi Gardens, USQ). They are open to the public and provide an excellent educational experience about the role of native plants in Indigenous life.

https://www.usq.edu.au/about-usq/locations/toowoomba/gumbi-gumbi-gardens

#BookSnapSunday – An American Marriage

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I have been joining in with Sharon from Gum Trees and Galaxies posting a book snap on a Sunday afternoon. After missing a few weeks it is nice to be back with an excellent book by Tayari Jones, although photographing an ebook did provide an interesting challenge. I was introduced to Tayari Jones when I watched her session about her book, An American Marriage, at the Sydney Writers Festival last year via Live and Local at the Toowoomba Empire Theatre.  An American Marriage explores the relationship between Roy and Celestial, whose marriage comes under intense pressure when Roy is wrongfully convicted for a crime he never committed. Although Roy is eventually released, everything from his former life is lost, except for Celestial. On the outside, though, life and people have moved on. There is no going back to his old life. The book highlights the prejudice and injustice of a criminal justice system which disproportionately affects people of colour, but it also raises questions about the true nature of love and marriage. Highly recommended.

Book Bingo 2019 Update

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With only 10 days to the end of this reading year I am madly trying to complete the challenges I set for 2019. At the beginning of the year, moving house again couldn’t have been further from my mind and it has been a major disruption in the reading and blogging program. However, since my last reading update at the end of October I have managed to cross off another 5 squares on the Book Bingo card.

  • Themes of Culture: The Bone People by Keri Hulme
  • Themes of Justice: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • Themes of Inequality: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth
  • Book Set in the Australian Outback: We of the Never-Never by Jeannie Gunn
  • Book Set in an Exotic Location: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

That leaves 4 squares to go and 10 days to the end of 2019. And there is Christmas. Can I do it?

Well, I am halfway through the book set on the Australian Coast. I have the books for the Australian Mountains and an author with the same initials squares. But the non fiction book about an event is causing some difficulty. There are plenty of books about events, but it has to be one I would enjoy reading. So that cuts out sport, politics, military history…and then it depends on how you define “event”, and it can’t be too long if I’m going to read it by the end of New Years Eve. Perhaps I need to browse the USQ library catalogue.

The good news is that I have completed my Goodreads Challenge for 2019. I do like the My 2019 Year in Books on Goodreads – cute graphics and some interesting data about my reading.

  • 65 books…and counting
  • 21, 439 pages
  • shortest book – 61 pages
  • longest book – 848 pages
  • most popular – Pride and Prejudice, read by almost 3 million people!
  • my average rating – 3.9

Hopefully I’ll have some more good news to report in 10 days time.

Until then, Happy Reading!

That’s what I have to do. Right now.

#BookSnapSunday – The God of Small Things

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This week I’m borrowing an idea from Sharon from Gum Trees and Galaxies, who used the beautiful pond at Laurel Bank Park for her snap of Claude Monet’s Mad Enchantment a few weeks ago. The floating water lilies and reeds was the perfect backdrop for Arundhati Roy’s debut novel, The God of Small Things, which was awarded the Booker prize for 1997.  Set in India, the novel tells the story of a multi-generational family, from 1969 to the early 90’s. It is a time of change, however… “Change is one thing. Acceptance is another.”

Beliefs about caste, especially about the relations between the Touchables and the Untouchables, run very deep. “The Love Laws lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.”  The price for crossing the line is very steep.

Much of the story focuses on twins Rahel and Estha, whose lives are irrevocably changed by a complicated mix of malice, violence, cultural beliefs and social discrimination. Rahel and Estha are two-egg twins, unalike yet sharing a “siamese soul.” Separated for 23 years, they bear the guilt for a sin they never committed.

“You’re not the Sinners. You’re the Sinned Against. You were only children. You had no control. You are the victims, not the perpetrators.” 

Their mother, Ammu, is a woman “already damned.” After a foolish marriage to escape “the clutches of her ill-tempered father and bitter, long-suffering mother” resulted in divorce when her husband turned out to be “a full-blown alcoholic with all of an alcoholic’s deviousness and tragic charm”, she knows for herself “there would be no more chances”. But Ammu has “little left to lose, and could therefore be dangerous.”

And then there is Velutha, a Paravan, Untouchable, “not allowed to touch anything that Touchables touched.” However, Velutha is given opportunities not usually afforded Paravans. Trained as a carpenter, he is “allowed to touch things that Touchables touched” and for this “he ought to be grateful” because it was “a big step for a Paravan.”

His father, though, is still an “Old World Paravan”. He remembers the days of crawling backwards and “sweeping away their footprints so that Brahmins or Syrian Christians would not defile themselves,” and covering their mouths “to divert their polluted breath.” His gratitude to Ammu’s family for their benevolence and generosity, “widened his smile and bent his back.”

Velutha’s quiet assurance, pride and sense of worth disturbs his father’s entrenched beliefs about caste segregation but when he realises his “Untouchable son had touched…entered…loved” what he had no right to touch or love, the Terror is unleashed.               

The God of Small Things is a somewhat complicated narrative, moving between past and present without the usual text markers so it does require the reader to pay careful attention, however the rich imagery used by Roy brings all the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of India and the passing seasons to life. It reminds us that it is the small things that can bring about massive change and that things can change in just one day.  

Sep-Oct Reading Update

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The last two months have been quite busy again with final essay writing and moving house being top priorities. Still, over the last two months I managed to read…

11358751The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton

 First published in 1908, The Man Who Was Thursday is a thrilling and humourous read featuring a guy called  “Thursday” as well as a bunch of other characters all named after the days of the week. Thursday infiltrates an organisation of anarchists and discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. 

 

 

23018751Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It is difficult to find the words to do justice to this novel. Adichie brings to life the devastating and heartbreaking consequences of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). It has been suggested that up to 2 million people, mostly women and children, died from starvation – a deliberate tactic of war willingly embraced by the Nigerian government, and its allies, against the Biafran rebels. The title is a direct reference to the emblem on the Biafran flag – a rising sun on a background of red, black and green horizontal stripes.

  • Red for the blood of the siblings massacred in the North
  • Black for mourning them
  • Green for the prosperity that an independent Biafran state would bring
  • A rising yellow sun for the glorious future that beckoned  

A half of a yellow sun could also have a different meaning. It could also depict a setting sun, as the Biafran hopes and dreams for independence slipped away from view, crushed by violence, starvation and the vested interests of major world powers. A very sobering read.    

910576The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle award in 1985 and made into a film of the same name, Tyler’s story depicts the wonder of life – beautiful, painful, wonderfully chaotic but also very full. As Macon slowly opens himself up to love again, he learns that life is messy, no one escapes unscathed but that there is always hope and love.

 

 

 

25015111Leap by Myfanwy Jones

 Shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Franklin Literary Award, Leap follows the journey of Elise and Joe, living on opposite sides of the city, yet both dealing with the pain of loss, grief and guilt. While Elise is drawn to the tigers – sleek, solitary, deadly – Joe runs, climbs and jumps, preparing to make the leap. Highly recommended. 

 

 

3244505Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx

This collection of short stories set in  Wyoming, features a wonderful array of characters, depicting the lives and times, the poverty and hardship of rural families.  One of the most well-known stories is “Brokeback Mountain”, adapted for film starring Heath Ledger. Some of the stories are sad as the old world of ranching passes away. Some are a little gruesome, yet darkly funny. My favourite story was “The Contest” in which the men of Elk Tooth sign up for a beard growing contest over the Winter. 

 

Book Bingo

Another three squares completed and just nine more to go. I’ve been really enjoying this challenge as it has encouraged me to read outside my usual fare and deliberately seek out books that will meet the criteria.

  • Romance: The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
  • Title with a Place Name: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
  • Literary: Leap by Myfanwy Jones

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Until next time, happy reading!

#BookSnapSunday – Wyoming Stories

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Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx is a collection of short stories that features a wonderful array of characters and depicts the poverty, hardship and resilience of the people of Wyoming. It was originally published as two volumes: Close Range in 1999 and Bad Dirt in 2004. This combined edition was published in 2007 and features one of Proulx’s most well-known stories, “Brokeback Mountain” which was adapted for film in 2005 and starred Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Wyoming is one of the largest states of the US but also the least populous. The state capital of Cheyenne had a population of around 63,000 in 2017 while Toowoomba’s population around the same time was about 135,000. I was quite surprised to read that, however given that two thirds of the state is covered by mountain ranges, the climate is described as semi-arid, and it is drier and windier than anywhere else in the US, well that puts it into perspective. Wyoming is also home to the Yellowstone National Park.

Some of the stories are sad as the old world of ranching is passing away. Some are a little gruesome but with a dark sense of humour, like “The Blood Bay” in which a cowboy, in need of a new pair of boots, discovers another cowboy frozen to death in the snow. Eyeing off the dead man’s “fine pair of handmade boots” he requisitions the boots with the help of his knife and leaves them to thaw out – still containing the previous owners…

My favourite story was “The Contest” in which the men of Elk Tooth sign up for a beard growing contest over the Winter. At first the contest is just a bit of light-hearted fun, but it soon becomes “cruelly competitive” and some competitors resort to desperate lengths to promote beard growth, even consulting a book, of all things. While the residents of Elk Tooth would have been astounded that “there were shops devoted entirely to books”, they soon discover the mystery of “sideways leaning words” (italics) and ponder whether Umberto Eco, in fact,  resides in a “home for old cowboys”. I particularly enjoyed the beard-growing efforts of Kevin, aged 14,  whose father told him he “didn’t have the chance of a pancake in a pigsty” however, in time his “few whiskers made up in length what they lacked in profusion”. Sounds just like the hairs on Dan’s chin!

The photo was taken out at our new place which is not in Wyoming, but the drought in eastern Australia is certainly making it look rather dry and barren.

Happy Reading!