#BookSnapSunday – Regeneration

Regeneration Book Snap – Version 2

I am a little late with this week’s Book Snap. I had to take a trip to emergency with Dan. Long arms and ceiling fans are not a good combination. Fortunately nothing was broken, just two fingers gashed and a couple of nasty bruised and swollen joints. Dan has quite long bony fingers and it’s surprising how much they can bleed. After a few x-rays, 3 stitches and a tetanus injection, (just  to be on the safe side), he’s back to his usual self.

A few days ago I started reading Regeneration by Pat Barker. First published in 1991, it is the first in her Regeneration trilogy about World War One. I had actually read the third book, The Ghost Road, quite some years ago, not knowing it was part of a trilogy.  Set in 1917, Regeneration deals with shell-shock, the treatment of soldiers in psychiatric care with the intention of getting them back to the front where they belonged, and the relationship between poet, Siegfried Sassoon, and army psychiatrist, W. H. Rivers. 

Sassoon and Rivers did meet in a psychiatric hospital and Regeneration is a fictionalised account of their relationship, so there is a blend between real and fictional characters. Barker reveals some of the horrific experiences of the soldiers under treatment and the official attitude towards shell-shock, which accused them of being  “conchies”, as well as cowards,  shirkers, scrimshankers and degenerates. There was little compassion for these traumatised soldiers in a horrific war that cost a huge amount of lives.

Sassoon was hospitalised for psychiatric assessment after he wrote “Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration” in July 1917. The declaration was a protest against the continuation of a war that he believed had become “a war of aggression and conquest” and the deception of the troops who were being sacrificed “for ends…evil and unjust.”  It was during his hospitalisation, that he also met another well-known war poet, Wilfred Owens. I remember studying the war poetry of Owens in high school. While Sassoon survived the war and became well-known for both his prose and poetry and as a champion for Owen’s work, Owen was killed in action one week before Armistice.

Regeneration is pictured above beside the Mothers’ Memorial in Toowoomba. This memorial was commissioned by the mothers of Toowoomba and erected in 1922 as a tribute for the sons that never returned. According to Monument Australia, very few memorials were commissioned by women, so the Toowoomba memorial is historically significant. Apparently, the women sold Sweet Violets to raise the money for the memorial and in 1996 the Sweet Violet became Toowoomba’s floral emblem.  

The Memorial also displays a list of soldiers lost in World War Two and is situated in the Mothers’ Memorial Gardens, opposite Queens Park. There are also memorials and plaques for both men and women killed in other conflicts, including Korea and Vietnam. It is a beautiful, restful garden, with manicured lawns, a rose garden, a fountain and benches for private meditation – a most fitting tribute for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. 

 

#BookSnapSunday – Watership Down

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This year I am continuing to join in with #Book Snap Sunday, hosted by Sharon at Gum Trees and Galaxies. Watership Down by Richard Adams was first published in 1972 and is described as …

 a remarkable tale of exile and survival, of heroism and leadership, the epic novel of a group of adventurers who desert their doomed city, and venture forth against all odds on a quest for a new home, a sturdier future. 

This group of intrepid adventurers are, of course, rabbits and their doomed city is a warren destined to be destroyed because it was in the way of a new housing estate.

There’s terrible evil in the worldIt comes from men,…Men will never rest till they’ve spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals.”

The destruction of the warren is harrowing. Escape routes are blocked. Poison gas is pumped into the warren and those who manage to escape are shot. The natural world pays a heavy price for human progress.   

The band of rabbits are unlikely heroes.  To rabbits, everything unknown is dangerous. The first reaction is to startle, the second to bolt.”  

 However, on their journey to find a new home, the rabbits make unexpected friends, discover different ways of social organisation and learn to  become warier, shrewder, a tenacious band who understood each other and worked together. 

Watership Down is not just a story about rabbits. Decades after its first publication it asks us to reflect on the cost of progress at any price and the kind of society we really wish to be.

#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 Bingo 2019 – Challenge Completed!

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A few days before Christmas I wrote that I had completed my Goodreads challenge for the year and was just four boxes short of completing my Book Bingo card. It was a big ask – 4 books in 10 days, with Christmas in between. But as of 3.25pm this afternoon, it has been achieved. And in addition, I have added an extra five books to my Goodreads challenge, making it a nice round 70 books for the year. So the last 4 squares were…

  • Book set on the Australian Coast: Bluebottle by Belinda Castles
  • Book set in the Australian Mountains: Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale
  • Author with same initials as me: That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
  • Non Fiction book about an event: Australia Day by Stan Grant

I have really enjoyed doing the Book Bingo challenge even if it was a race to the finish and I am looking forward to Book Bingo 2020 with a very pretty card but less squares. This time I hope to keep on track and remember to post on the 2nd Saturday of every month. Here’s a look at next year’s card.

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Until next year…

Happy Reading!

#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!