2018 Reading Challenge

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2018 was the year for my first ever Reading Challenge. Now you might think that as an avid reader surely I would have completed a reading challenge before, but actually – no. In the past I have been happy just to read whatever I felt like reading, plodding through some books while voraciously devouring others. And I’ve never really kept a record of the books that I have read, until the last few years, and only then somewhat haphazardly. There are always books that stick out in your memory, but there are countless others that have faded into oblivion.

This year I stepped up to participate in my first Goodreads Reading Challenge. I am a fairly recent convert to Goodreads and have discovered the delights of logging my literary journey, creating and stocking bookshelves and deliberating over how many stars a book should receive. Since it was my first challenge and life does have a habit of interfering with my reading, I set a target that I thought would be pretty achievable – 50 books. That’s only one book a week. Easy.

As November closed, and with still one month to go – the target was reached. 50 books – done! It’s always exciting to nail a goal and to feel that sense of achievement. I enjoyed watching the little progress bar gradually work its way to the end, seeing when I was right on target, had slipped behind a little or taken a huge leap ahead.

What did I read? There were a few favourites like Kate Forsyth, Kate Morton, PD James and JRR Tolkien; some classics and a few promising debuts; some that I loved, some that stayed with me for a long time, and some that just weren’t for me. I have whittled the list down to the ten books that I most enjoyed or that made a deep impression, but before we get to that let’s crunch a few numbers. Reading data can be quite fascinating in of itself.

The Numbers

  • 50 books – well it turned out to be actually 51, because I discovered I had forgotten to log a date for one book.
  • 31 books rated at least 4 stars – I can be hard to please sometimes, I have to really love a book to give it 4 stars.
  • 20 female authors – hmm, interesting what the data shows. I admit this is a bit of a surprise as I would have expected this number to be higher. However I did include the books I read for English Lit, which does seem to be more skewed towards male authors. Definitely something to address next year.
  • 12 books by Australian authors – now these were mostly female authors and two of them were debuts.
  • 11 fantasy/mythology – since I rank The Lord of the Rings as my favourite book of all time, this is hardly surprising.
  • 9 historical fiction – it’s amazing all the interesting bits of history you can discover just through reading.
  • 8 Science Fiction  – helps when you study Science Fiction in English Lit!

My Top Ten Reads for 2018

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – definitely one of my favourite reads for this year. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many stories you have read about World War Two, there is always something new you can learn, such as the role of radio or the suffering of women and children on both sides of the conflict.
  • The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan – when the guns are silenced and the treaties are signed, the war is over. But the horror and trauma live on in the lives and memories of those who left the ruins of Europe for a new life on the other side of the world. A confronting but highly recommended read.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – the seminal monster text. But who is really the monster here? A book that I think gets better with every read.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant: Midnight by Derek Landy – I just love Skulduggery, he makes me laugh so much. This is the eleventh book of a series I only discovered last year. I actually started with number 10, Resurrection, loved it instantly and tracked down the rest straight away.
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – this was the surprise of the year. Initially I thought a book about an old man, the sea and a big fish might be somewhat tedious. It was actually quite engaging and my heart really broke for the old man, after such a long battle…
  • Carmilla by J Sheridan Le Fanu – I had always thought that vampires started with Dracula, but not so. There is nothing quite so threatening as a young woman who defies established conventions.
  • Percy Jackson & the Olympians:The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan – OK, I know this is really four books but it’s a series so I’m counting it as one and I’ve just got one more book to go. Bec is a Percy Jackson fan, so I’ve been pretty keen to see what tickles her fancy so much. Is it Children’s or is it YA – you be the judge, but it’s been a rollercoaster of laughs.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker – this is the classic vampire text to which modern incarnations pay homage, but there’s more going on here than just blood, fangs and traditional vampire lore. Poor Madam Mina … mother or monster?
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison – sometimes it is just so hard to fathom the inhumanity of the human race. There are some things that should never be forgotten – and the misery, violence and horror of the human slave trade is one of those things.
  • The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – I have loved Kate’s books ever since I first picked up The Shifting Fog at the library some years ago. Shifting between the past and the present she weaves a beautiful and haunting story of tragedy and heartbreak, and just when I think I’ve got it worked out, she throws in a twist.

… and my reading goals for 2019?

  • to achieve a better balance between male and female authors
  • to read for wider representation
  • to read more non-fiction

What will you be reading next?

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Brisbane Writers Festival 2018

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A few weeks ago Bec and I travelled down to Brisbane for the 2018 Writers Festival. It was the first time I had attended the Festival but luckily Bec had had the opportunity to go when she was in grade seven. It’s always been a highlight of her last year at Primary School because she was able to meet Emily Rodda and have her copy of The Golden Door signed. It was the first time she had ever met an author. I had once been to the Adelaide Writers Festival, many moons ago, but this was my first experience of the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.

The Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF) has a long history, starting life in 1962 as the Warana Writers Convention. More than fifty years later, it has grown into a three day event, with over 150 sessions and drawing a crowd of over 20,000 literary lovers. The events are housed mainly at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) and the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), both located very conveniently at South Bank in the CBD. 

The key drawcard of the BWF for us, was Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series. We have both loved the Divergent series, although I am still to read the last book – you know, so many books, so little time – and Bec has really enjoyed the Carve the Mark duology.  As soon as we discovered that Veronica Roth was coming, that was it, we were so there! 

Our BWF schedule began on Thursday evening with Dystopian Futures: An Evening with Veronica Roth and Friends. Veronica was interviewed by Kim Wilkins, who is an Australian writer based in Brisbane. Kim writes fantasy, as well as general fiction under the name Kimberley Freeman. It was quite exciting to see Veronica Roth up close and hear her talk about her books and her recent experiences with Australian wildlife. The highlight, of course, was when Bec was able to have her copy of The Fates Divide signed by Veronica.

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On Friday, Bec was having a study day while I caught the train into the city to attend two sessions and just soak up the literary atmosphere. My first session for the day was A Hundred Small Lessons with Ashley Hay and Kristina Olsson. I was unfamiliar with Ashley Hay but she has had a very accomplished career in journalism and fiction. Ashley was interviewed by Kristina Olsson, who is another award-winning author new to me, but that’s the beauty of writers festivals. We not only get to meet our favourite authors but also discover some new ones too. Ashley’s work is apparently known for its ”incandescent intelligence and a rare sensibility.” Her most recent novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, is about “the many small decisions – the invisible moments – that come to make a life.” It explores what it means to be human and the way that place changes who we are. It is a story of love and of life.

I really enjoyed the conversation between Ashley and Kristina. One of the things that really stood out to me, was Ashley’s encouragement to pay attention to the little things of life because these little moments or lessons are the real stuff of life. Straight after the session I headed directly to the Festival bookshop and bought two of her books, The Railwayman’s Wife, which explores grief, and A Hundred Small Lessons. Of course, I was also tempted by two other titles, The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (winner of the Stella Prize in 2017) and Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. And I just couldn’t resist a Hermione Granger library bag…. You might notice the little yellow tag in the top right hand corner. Remember the days when we used to fill out those little yellow cards when we borrowed a library book? Well, that’s exactly what it looks like. The bags were produced by Out of Print and proceeds of their products go towards funding literacy programs and donating books to needy communities. A very worthy cause.

After lunch I attended Writing as Women’s Work with Anne-Marie Priest and Melissa Ashley. Anne-Marie’s most recent book, A Free Flame  is a group portrait of four leading 20th century writers, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett, Ruth Park and Christina Stead. It explores their lives and the challenges they faced as women writers when women’s writing didn’t receive the respect it deserved. Melissa’s novel, The Birdman’s Wife, also focuses on another overlooked woman, Elizabeth Gould, who was responsible for the beautiful illustrations in the Gould collections. Elizabeth was often just known as her husband’s assistant, but as Melissa notes, John Gould’s books wouldn’t have been possible without her artistry and attention to detail.

Saturday was our last day at the BWF but unfortunately our first session The Lace Weaver with Lauren Chater had to be cancelled. Sydney had been experiencing some very wild storms and Lauren was unable to fly out. It was a bit disappointing but I did enjoy reading her debut novel which is set in Estonia during the second world war. I didn’t know much about Estonia’s history, but Lauren’s book brings to life the difficulties faced by the Estonians caught between the Soviets and the Nazis, as well as the Estonian tradition of knitting lace shawls. I thought it was a very fine debut.

We wrapped up our BWF experience with Love YA: Crafting Futures. Part of the BWF program included a Love YA festival held across the river at the Brisbane Square Library. These sessions were free and focused especially on YA. The Crafting Futures session featured Veronica Roth (again!) and Cally Black, whose debut novel, In the Dark Spaces  was published in 2017. The focus of the discussion was “Reflecting on the present through the lens of dark speculative fiction.” A few of the highlights included Veronica’s explanation of how she developed the language for Carve the Mark and the important place that series like Harry Potter have played in the evolution and success of YA. Veronica made us all laugh at how excited she would be to meet J. K. Rowling. We sometimes forget that writers are human too – just like us. They get excited too about meeting the authors who have played an important part in their life, especially during those teenage years. 

Well, that was our BWF experience for this year. Now we have to wait to see the program for next year. 

Happy Reading!

Love Your Bookshop Day

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Today is Love Your Bookshop Day across Australia, and as avid readers, Bec and I surely do love our bookshops. We probably love them a little too much, however, you can never have too many books. Just gazing at all the titles crammed into our bookshelves brings a sense of quietness to our overstressed souls. And it’s amazing how much enjoyment you can have trying different ways of rearranging the books, trying to squeeze just one more book on that shelf and making the most of every square centimetre of space.

There’s nothing like the feel of a new book in your hands. Or the smell of new pages. It’s almost as good as opening a new jar of coffee and breathing in that distinct caffeine aroma. E-books are okay for travelling or maybe to sample a new author – but they’re just not the same as a real book. Cuddling up in bed or collapsing into a beanbag with an iPad is just not quite the same.  Besides, you read differently off a page than you do off a screen.

Why read?

Readers often struggle with this question because for us, why not read? There are heaps of different reasons for reading, but here are some of my favourite reasons.

  1. To learn – about anything you like: history, science, art, sport, health ….
  2. To expand our horizons – experience a different culture, a different era
  3. To develop empathy – step inside someone else’s shoes
  4. To develop imagination – be inspired, take a new idea in a different direction
  5. To expand your vocabulary  – sometimes you do need to keep a dictionary alongside
  6. To develop critical thinking – we don’t always have to agree with an author
  7. To be inspired – the stories of others can give us hope in dark times
  8. To reduce stress – escape from the demands of life, even if just for a little while
  9. To help you sleep – reading from a page helps to calm your mind
  10. To save money – once you have the book, you can read it over and over and over again, for free!

Here in Toowoomba, you can buy books in a number of places, but our favourite bookshops are QBD (Queensland Book Depot) and Dymocks.

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Interestingly, QBD was originally started by the Uniting Church in the 1890’s and at one point had up to 50 stores across QLD.  Then from the 1990’s it was a family-owned business, until just a few years ago, expanding to have stores across Australia.

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Dymocks is another family-owned business, that started in Sydney in 1879 and is still the oldest Australian-owned bookstore. We still buy books online sometimes, but we love to take any opportunity to drop into QBD or Dymocks.

Love Your Bookshop Day is all about encouraging people to visit their local bookshop. There are some very good reasons for buying locally, apart from supporting writers which is always the best reason, and you can read about them here . Sometimes, when we think about our never-ending TBR lists, we try to impose a book buying ban upon ourselves – it’s difficult but sometimes we just have to do it. At those times we know that we have to stay right away from the bookshops. Just don’t go there because we know what will happen. We’ll stroll in through the entrance past the new release section and be instantly captivated by a shiny new cover, a book title recommended by any of the numerous book reviewers we follow or the latest title by any one of our favourite authors.

Today, on Love Your Bookshop Day, we are all invited to visit our local bookshop and hang out. Now, you don’t have to go today, but just remember to keep your local bookshop in mind as a place where you can go to discover a new friend. A friend that is  waiting for you to take it home, to read and love, and to reread, again and again.

Here are our most recent finds – some brand new ones and some old favourites.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Spelling Out the Blog with the TBR

For the uninitiated, TBR means – To Be Read. It’s a list that readers have of the books sitting on our shelves, on our bedside tables, or in piles all over the house which we are yet to read. My TBR is a work in progress –never ending, always growing.

As a reader, I like to read book reviews. It helps me discover new gems and new authors that I may not have come across before. It also adds considerably to my TBR. Currently there is a meme going around which involves spelling out the name of your blog using book titles from your TBR. Straight away I thought, how cool. This will be fun.

So here is the name of my blog, spelled out in book titles from my TBR. All of these books are currently sitting on one of my bookshelves, waiting patiently to be read. The words “the” and “a” at the beginning of a title don’t count.  I thought that V might be a challenge, but it turned out that I had two titles to choose from. Of course, there are plenty more books sitting on my TBR, but I have tried to select from a range of authors. Who knows, I might get to some of these books this year, or maybe they will still be on the TBR this time next year.

L is for The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún by J R R Tolkien

I is for I for Isobel by Amy Witting

V is for A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I is for The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

N is for Nellie’s Vow by Leonie Binge

G is for The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

 

O is for Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

N is for The Night Manager by John le Carre

T is for Three Dollars by Eliot Perlman

H is for Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

E is for Ehrengard by Isak Dinesen

D is for The Dry by Jane Harper

O is for One Hundred and One Ways by Mako Yoshikawa

W is for The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike

N is for The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

S is for The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

 

What’s sitting on your TBR?

 

 

I Love a Good Story

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In the Age of Technology there are champions and nay-sayers. Some praise the wonderful advantages of technology in the modern life, while others voice concerns about failing eyesight, bad posture and poor social and communication skills. I’m inclined to think that both sides have a point. Technology is a major part of our lives today and it is quite easy for it to become the master rather than the tool. How often do we hear the story about people working in the same room, eyes glued to their screens, e-mailing or texting each other, rather than actually getting off their seat and walking just a few steps to talk to someone in person. On the other hand, technology can be a great tool for sourcing information, locating services and connecting people. Especially when you move to a new place.

A few months ago I needed to find a new dentist. In the old days I would have just flicked through the yellow pages, picked a number out and hoped for the best. Not anymore. Now, we just Google it!  I scanned through the list, checked out a few websites, and made an appointment. All without leaving the comfort of my own computer screen.  It wasn’t  just about efficiency and time-saving. I wasn’t just finding a good dentist for me – I was also looking for a good dentist for Dan.

A good story can be the beginning of a long-lasting relationship

Anybody with a child on the spectrum knows how difficult trips to the doctor, hairdresser or dentist can be. They can be an absolute nightmare, so it’s very important to find the right person. A good website doesn’t just give me the facts about a service provider: it tells me a story about them – their values, their experience, their goals. You don’t get second chances with Dan. I have to be the guinea pig and check them out first. A good story can lead to a long-lasting relationship.

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I love a good story. No doubt that explains my ever expanding book and DVD collection. Stories have a way of connecting people over time, space, and the tyranny of distance. Here too, like never before, technology connects readers with writers, and readers with other readers, and so on. I must admit that I have been somewhat slow in my uptake of the digital world. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. However, as an avid reader, I like to meet other avid readers too, and so I have joined the Goodreads community. And it’s funny how joining an online community has actually led to the discovery of a local book club that meets in real life.

There is nothing quite like meeting people face to face

Through my study at USQ, I have slowly become more comfortable with participating in online forums, and with students across Australia and the world, it is the only way to foster a learning community. But still, there is nothing quite like meeting people face to face. Conversation flows more naturally, especially with a glass of good red wine, and there is an immediacy of response, an ebb and flow in the natural rhythm of conversation that is difficult to achieve online. It can be hard to meet new people when you’re the newbie in town, so it is quite exciting to discover a group of like-minded people who enjoy devouring books as much as I do.

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I think it’s important that we don’t throw the good out with the bad. We do need to ensure we find a good balance in the way we use technology in our lives but we can also savour the good stories that make us laugh, inspire hope and help us connect with real people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Devourer

I devour books.

All sorts of books: historical fiction, fantasy, crime, drama, Australian fiction and the occasional biography or memoir. For as long as I can remember, I have been an avid reader. Riding home from school on the bus, the other kids would always have to remind me that it was my stop to get off. As I clambered off the bus, school bag in one hand and book in the other, I would hear the mutterings, “always got her head in a book!”

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Reading is like breathing. I couldn’t imagine a world without books and nor would I want to. With a book, I can go anywhere in the world, during any time – past, present or future. I can discover imaginary worlds or learn more about the real one. I can get a taste of how it might feel to walk in another person’s shoes.

C.S Lewis said, “I am a product (… of) endless books,” and I believe that to be true. Every author we read, every character we meet, every place we explore, contributes to the person we are becoming. They makes us think, imagine, cry, rejoice and sometimes, get mad. They tell us that we are not alone. There are others who have experienced the same, felt the same, thought the same.

Over my lifetime, I have devoured many books, Version 2  yet the reading list seems to grow ever longer. My list of favourite authors, headed by J.R.R. Tolkien, grows ever longer too. Every patch of blank wall is a potential spot for another bookshelf. I used to keep a little pile of books, waiting patiently to be read, on my bedside table. However the pile grew so high that I have now graduated to an entire bookshelf for books to be read … some time.

 

 

As a book devourer, I tend to read pretty fast. Once I’m hooked, I just want to plough ahead and discover what comes next. Studying English Literature though, has taught me about the joy of reading lento – slowly and deeply. I still tend to read a book allegro (fast) the first time, but I am learning to enjoy books slowly the second time, or third time around. Of course, rereading books does prolong my reading list even further, but it is like time spent with a friend.

I must admit that I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to reading. I like to feel a real book in my hands. I like the smell of a new book and the crispness of the pages. There is nothing better than curling up in bed, when the wind is howling, the rain is pelting, and the temperature is plummeting, with a favourite book in your hands. E-books have their uses, but give me a real book any day.