Monday, December 28, 2015

Australian Women Writers Challenge Completed!

If last year, through undertaking the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I became a convert to reading more Australian women authors, then this year it’s like I’ve been confirmed – or even taken my vows. This year I undertook the Miles challenge of reading six books and reviewing four. 

In 2015 I read in a more informed way. I was much more up with latest releases – thanks mostly to the AWW website which has connected me to authors, author blogs and reading blogs. In fact, all the books I reviewed for the challenge were published in 2014 or 2015.
The books I reviewed were:

The other new releases I read were:

“One Life: My Mother’s Story”, Kate Grenville’s tender and astute evocation of her late mother’s life. I heard Kate Grenville speak at our local library and was in awe of her; sharp, erudite, considered and warm. It was a privilege to hear her speak about how she went about telling her mother’s story, celebrating her life in as honest and respectful way while also managing to write a wonderfully engaging and honest narrative.

This book is so well written. Bishop gets inside the two main characters, husband and wife, and explores their strengths and flaws tenderly, without judgement, but in doing so exposes the tragedy of their marriage and family. I was so affected by this book I actually had to reimagine the ending so I could be at peace with what happened. I know. It’s fiction! But I couldn’t live with the sadness.

A long short story? Short novella? Either way – engrossing and insightful and beautifully crafted.

Paddy O’Reilly is one of Australia’s best short story writers. The stories are original, unexpected yet familiar. She builds these lean works with such tightness and strength that they take hold and stay with you.

“Danny Best: Full On!” by JenStorer – a new release rad for my kid’s books club, Barnaby Book club.
My kid’s book club, Barnaby Book Club, were unanimous in their praise for this book. It is jam-packed with stories, quizzes, fun random weird stuff in the margins like zombie possums and great characters like Danny Best and all of his friends. It is made up of several stories with so much to engage the kids they will most likely read it several times. 

The other books I read were:
This is the first book by Lily Brett that I have read and I thought it was masterful – faultless. I liked everything about it – especially the structure and tone.

“Mateship With Birds” By Carrie Tiffany – made me laugh and cry. I could smell the bush while reading this.
“The Tall Man: The Death of Doomadgee” by Chloe Hooper – an extraordinarily important book , expertly navigated and crafted.

And I have just snuck in another with a few days before the end of the year -  Anna Funder’s “All That I Am”. What. A. Book. So impressed.

When I was a kid I remember thinking of the calendar year as very linear. I imagined a dark blank space of nothingness between December of one year and January of the next. It must have been to do with our wall calendar – the flipping of the pages for each month until the end. Then what? Nothing…until the next calendar was put up. Like falling off the edge of a flat earth I think I thought you could fall off time into some dark nothingness. What must I thought happened there? I don’t know. I just remember a time where I never thought of one year connecting straight to the next. Now I know all too well how years roll on, merge, chase and engulf one another. So, although I have completed my Australian Women Writers challenge for 2015 I am forging straight on to the challenge for 2016 - like a tumble turn at the end of one lap with a strong push off the wall.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

For the Bookish: My Year in Reading

2015 reading review: 

It is the time of year when everyone  trots out their best of lists.  I’m joining the herd and assessing my year in books.

Can reading be a career? I wish. Author Jane Rawson noted during the year that she takes time off work to write but taking time off work to read doesn’t seem to be possible. It’s interesting because reading is very important to my life - which it should be. As is goes hand in hand with writing, learning and personal development, reading is so much more to me than a leisure activity!

I have aimed to read better and to be more informed in my choices rather than to read whatever turns up in the second hand shop/ op shop/library shelf. This more targeted approach has been incredibly rewarding. I’m enjoying reading more than ever. And I have to say, it’s thanks to TECHNOLOGY! Yes! Goodreads. I can keep track of books that pique my interest and the phone app enables me to seek them out when I am at a library. And an E-reader – makes books more affordable, simple to buy and it’s easy on the eyes.

So far in 2015 I have read (and sometimes given up on…) 56 books. Female authors dominate the list coming in at 34 while books by male authors only numbered 20. Of all of those books, 17 were Australian books:  4 by male authors, 13 by female authors. This is in part thanks to my Australian Women Writers challenge (which will get a post of its own!) 5 books were kids chapter books I read for my kids book club and only 5 books were nonfiction.
Now for the BEST of them:
Of the Australian books: 

“A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists” by (the above mentioned)Jane Rawson wins on a few fronts – best title for a start. It is a novel that stays with me. A novel that fried my brain and then rewired it a little - which for me is the best sort of book.

 “Black Rock White City” by another Melbourne local, A.S. Patric was not only engrossing but devastating and has a dark power that is hard to shake off – it got into my pores like tattoo ink. Mark Henshaw’s “The Snow Kimono” was simply remarkable. Rohan Wilson’s wonderful western set in Launceston in the 1870’s, “To Name Those Lost” was gritty, epic, dark, astute and terse. Much like Tasmania in general. Think Australian "Deadwood." Peggy Frew impressed with “Hope Farm” and Jenny Ackland delighted with “The Secret Son”. Jenny Ackland is voracious and discerning reader and her blog, Seraglio, is a great one to follow. Another favourite this year was “The Other Side of the World” by Stephanie Bishop devastated me to the point that I had to reimagine the ending in order to go to sleep.

Of the International books:
I discovered Barbara Trapido and read her books voraciously not wanting to leave the worlds she created or the cast of characters who become like friends. I read four back to back.

Jenny Offill’s "Department of Speculation" was a brief, word perfect story of motherhood and marriage. She avoided clich├ęs while being honest in the most creative ways. I read it in one sitting. My other blown-away–by-the-talent encounter was with the short stories of Scottish author Stuart Evers. I read the collection “Your Father Sends His Love”– it actually made me want to give up writing short stories – or get a lot better at it! “A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson, so heartbreakingly human in the telling of a life, moved me to tears and once again confirmed how much I adore Kate Atkinson. Ali Smith was another discovery – what a remarkable story teller. “How to be Both” won some well-deserved accolades doesn’t need my endorsement except to say how wonderfully clever Ali Smith is.
Then there were the Irish books: Niall Williams’ “History of the Rain" is closest to my heart. I read it slowly. Savoured the language. Laughed. Cried. A Memorable for Life sort of book. The other, also set in West Ireland was Ann Enright’s “The Green Road”. Simply, just brilliant. Oh the Irish. They woo me with their lyrical turn of phrase, wisdom that seems as old as the rocks and it brews in me a nostalgia I don’t even understand! I haven’t even been to Ireland! 

2015 was also notable for my first Jonathan Franzen novel, “Freedom”. I just wanted to shout at everyone what a masterpiece this book is! But then everyone already knew…I’m late in discovering him.

Of the meagre list of non-fiction I read the standout is Chloe Hooper’s “The Tall Man.” An important book for Autralia. A moving book. A difficult book; brilliantly crafted, investigated and navigated.

A reading highlight was being invited to talk books as part of the Read with Raf book club on the local ABC radio 774 drive program with Rafael Epstein. The books discussed were “Wolf in White Van” by John Darnielle and “Us” by David Nichols. I wrote extensive reviews of them both. It is also thanks to this radio book club that I read "Black Rock White City."

I did give up on 6 books. Something I wouldn’t have done when I was younger but, hey, so many books, so little time….7 books if you count the Will Self book I gave up on yesterday.
And the year isn’t over.  In keeping with the overall strong pattern of my reading – I am reading, you guessed it, a female Australian author: Anna Funder's “All That I Am.”