Archived reviews

 

Storytime: Growing up with books

Jane Sullivan

Published by Ventura Press 2019

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Jane Sullivan is best known to us as a journalist and writer. I also know her as a most generous and professional interviewer, hosting, as she has, many of the literary events I have convened over my years of bookselling. I was eager to read her latest book, Storytime, and the opening paragraph instantly hooked me:

“It’s ten o’clock at night and there is just enough light to read by. I’m in bed and everyone thinks I’m asleep. But I’ve got my favourite book of the moment and I’m devouring it.”

Legend has it that my grandmother, who lived with my family of seven children, mother and father, told my mother “you’ll never raise that child, she is always reading, never sleeping” - hence the immediate connection with Jane’s experience. 

In Storytime, Jane takes us back to her book-filled childhood, revisiting a handful of titles that particularly spoke to her, either positively or negatively. She describes the reading scene – where she was, what else was happening around her, how she was feeling – and then reflects on what memories and ruminations the re-reading of these books has brought forth. It is an eclectic list of titles, from The Myths of Greece and Rome to The Wind in the Willows to Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, and contains both expected and unexpected tastes at the various stages of her young reading life.

Her response to reading The Magic Pudding was especially poignant for me. She tells of being in London and receiving books for birthdays and at Christmas from her relatives in distant Australia. As Aunt to nieces and nephews in America, I have so often sent book parcels to the other side of the world, carefully chosen for their Australian perspective. Reading this chapter in Jane’s book spurs me to write to the now adult relatives and see what they made of my presents. Is this not the wonder of books – that we can share them widely and add to another’s reading experience?

Throughout Storytime, Jane includes glimpses into the reading memories of other Australian authors, having them reflect on the books that held their attention as young readers. These snippets are subtly interwoven and add that other dimension that we bibliophiles have to our book life - the delight in sharing recommendations, of ‘talking about books’ with others. There is a great sense of community amongst readers.

What makes this ‘book about books’ different from others is that it is not simply a writer reminiscing about her world of books but, rather, it is a critical assessment of how books have shaped her life and what those books mean to her today. Jane has re-read all the books and offers a critique of her younger self and the books. In this way, it is both, as mentioned in the cover notes, a ‘blbliomemoir’ and a reading guide. And, as with all good books, it shall grace my home library (in the extensive ‘books on books’ shelves) and be consulted and devoured time and again….even, perhaps, when “it’s ten o’clock at night and there is just enough light to read by….”

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 4 August 2019)

 

Memory Craft

Published by Allen & Unwin 2019

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This is a timely and comprehensive look at the ways in which human beings have harnessed the natural world and their imaginations to build their memory bank. I say timely because of the combined increases in our understanding of how our brains work and the rise in diseases such as dementia.

Lynne Kelly, a scientist and researcher at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, explores methods for improving memory. Her scope is broad, encompassing different points in human evolution and varying cultural and ethnic groups. It is particularly interesting to learn of the way First Nations people have built their memories through a deep connection to the physical world.

The author happily tells us that she grew up with a shocking memory; happily because it meant she was open to the idea of learning to improve the way she was exercising her brain. Her research developed from this point and she has applied many of the ancient techniques to her own situation.

The view that we don’t need our own memory to function at its peak because we have the internet is one that she dispels effectively and quickly, reminding us that we only look up what we know to look up – we are not necessarily adding widely to our memory of the vast array of information and experience on offer.

I particularly enjoyed her explanations of the way in which people in medieval times imbued their writing with illustrations as signposts to their stories. Indeed, throughout the book, Ms. Kelly encourages us to understand the value of story as a way to communicate our shared experience and to build the universal ‘memory bank’.

With many practical examples of how we can train our brains to build our memory, this book is both a reference guide and a tool.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 4 August 2019)







A Spanner in the Works

Loretta Smith

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Published by Hachette 2019

So little is known of many who have gone before us and made significant contributions; however, the relatively recent upsurge in the publication of local biographies is addressing this ignorance. This biography of Alice Anderson introduces us to a woman who was the quintessential trailblazer. Born in 1896, Alice would become a motor mechanic and open and operate the first all-female garage business.

It is the story of a tenacious, driven and entrepreneurial woman who defied the prejudices at work in society, refusing to accept the common wisdom that women were incapable of being mechanics. Based initially in outer Melbourne, in the Dandenong ranges, Alice eventually based herself in the affluent suburb of Kew. Smartly, she began by operating a touring service through the Dandenongs that eventually brought her to the attention of both a local mechanic and a well-read motoring magazine of the time.
Alice’s story is full of adventure and courage, and her untimely and mysterious death adds another layer to her fascinating life.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 2 June 2019)


The Incidental Tourist

Peter Doherty

Published by Melbourne University Publishing 2018

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Peter Doherty, the much-celebrated 1996 Nobel Prize winner, invites us to share his very particular perspective on world travel, that of the professional attending conferences and living for a few years at a time in foreign cities.

Whether it be Italy or Zimbabwe, Peter debunks the myths of conference-attendance being an ‘overseas jaunt’ and explains the difficulties in trying to get a feel for a city that you are only glimpsing. He also shares his discovery of places such as Edinburgh and Memphis, where he spent considerable time as a visiting professional.

Peter brings his gentle, enquiring nature to the task and presents us with a world seen through a somewhat rarified lense. He also reminds us that return visits to places you’ve loved do not often ‘live up’ to the memory – our imagination has imbued the real memory with nuances that subtly change our perspective. 

The title is apt and reflects the nature of the extensive travelling Peter and his wife have undertaken over the course of his stellar career.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 2 June 2019)



Mr. Guilfoyle’s Honeymoon: The Gardens of Europe & Great Britain

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Edited by Diana Evelyn Hill & Edmee Helen Cudmore

Published by Miegunyah 2019

In 1890, the then director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, William Robert Guilfoyle, embarked on his honeymoon. He would take nine months to complete the holiday and visit the famous gardens of Britain, Italy, Belgium and France, with a side trip to Sir Lanka.

Mr. Guilfoyle was an accomplished watercolourist and, as we discover, writer. This collection of, as he described them, “tourist’s notes on the picturesque in gardens, parks and forests”, is informative and illuminating. For the gardener, his interest in design and plants is to the fore while for other readers, his art and evocative descriptions of the beauty he is seeing on his travels is genuinely captivating.

These notes are more than musings of a travelling man; they help to explain his vision for the Botanic Gardens we know today. He brought back with him definite ideas on the plants to include; the intention (fulfilled) to build a conservatory; and the notion of having commemorative trees in the gardens.

Along with other directors, Mr. Guilfoyle has left us with a wonderful addition to the city of Melbourne and, in this beautifully produced book, a glimpse into the world as it was at the turn of a century.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 5 May 2019)

 

Extraordinary Insects

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Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

Published by Mudlark, 2019

The subtitle says it all: “Weird. Wonderful, Indispensible. The Ones who run our world.” Professor Sverdrup-Thygeson takes inspiration from a quote from Pliny the Elder – “Nature is nowhere as great as in its smallest creatures” – and opens our eyes to the wonder that is our ecosystem, on its most micro level.

 She identifies the insects that inhabit our world; explains their relationship to other animals and plants; and then concentrates on our relationship with them. We understand how the tiniest insect has a profound effect on our food supply, our health, and our daily environment.  

 The book is peppered with examples of how and where insects make a difference in every aspect of our lives. The author is a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) but takes a world view on her subject, including interesting stories about the Australian environment.

 Unexpectedly, I found this book fascinating – after all, who among us thinks about how grateful we should be to insects? – and genuinely educational. It is, though, not a dry, academic text, but an accessible, enjoyable read. Every time I see an ant or brush away a fly, I’ll think more kindly towards them!

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 5 May 2019)

 

Milk Bars Book

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Eamon Donnelly

Published by Eamon Donnelly

Take a moment and think back. You are at an age when you are allowed to ‘go to the shop’ by yourself. You have a few coins in your pocket. And you have big plans. The local milk bar offers a wonderful array of enticing things – lollies in all shapes and colours; milkshakes in ice cold, brightly coloured containers; and the best selection of ice-creams. An important life moment is unfolding. You are independent, cashed up, and ready to make personal decisions. Mostly, you are just really excited. 

Along with millions of other Australians, Eamon Donnelly has wonderful memories of going to his local milk bar in East Geelong, Victoria. And, those memories are the foundation for this terrific new book, Milk Bars. Eamon has spent more than a decade travelling across Australia photographing and documenting the remaining milk bars and the sites of long disappeared milk bars.

Eamon’s creativity shines through in this book. He is an award-winning illustrator, designer and artist, as well as someone with a genuine interest in chronicling unique aspects of Australian popular culture. His book is ‘choc-a-block’ full of images, old advertisements, and illustrations.

Importantly, this book also documents the relationship between the development of milk bars and immigration. So many families, newly arrived in Australia, opened and ran the local stores. There are lovely anecdotes from milk bar owners and their families, and an essay entitled “The Birth of the Milk Bar” which gives us the historical context.

This book is self-published and can be purchased by going to www.milkbarsbook.com

Milk Bars by Eamon Donnelly reminds of a simpler time, when our world was genuinely the ‘local’ community, and gives us a fabulous, technicolour hit of pure nostalgia.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 7 April 2019)



The Fragments

Toni Jordan
Published by Text Publishing

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One of my favourite Australian authors, Toni Jordan has once again written a thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable novel. The Fragments introduces us to Caddie who is enthralled by the story of an American writer, Inga Karlson. Inga lived and died in New York in the 1930s, her death a devastating event for all her readers who had elevated her to cult status for her single, published work. Caddie is in Brisbane, decades after Inga’s death and is standing in line to view an exhibition based on Inga’s life and, significantly, the fragments of what was to be Inga’s second, much anticipated novel. These scant pieces of writing have captured the imagination of booksellers, literature professors, and devoted readers for decades. Caddie’s chance encounter with a woman also visiting the exhibition turns the common wisdom that these fragments are all that survived the fire that claimed Inga’s life completely on its head. She quotes another ‘fragment’ to Caddie who is convinced it is genuine; if so, how can it be that no-one, in all the years, knows of these additional words?

The story works on a number of levels – crime mystery, romantic relationships, literary puzzle – and moves at a pace that maintains interest. We become invested in Caddie’s life, intrigued by Rachel’s story (the other woman at the exhibition), and fascinated by Inga’s short life. 1930s New York and 1980s Brisbane are described expertly, making you feel you are there, in the moment, with the characters.

This is Toni Jordan’s great skill, creating a world that moves off the page into our consciousness. I liken her writing to that of Ruth Park, another favourite author for me. Park’s ability to transport the reader to the world she is describing is masterful, and Toni Jordan achieves the same effect. The characters Toni creates have stayed with me long after I have finished reading. The Fragments sits very nicely alongside her Nine Days, Fall Girl, Addition, and Tiny, Useless Hearts.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 7 April 2019)



Should I stay or should I go…and 87 other serious answers in questions in songs.

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James Ball

Published by Boxtree

I find these sorts of books – the products of chance conversations (often, it seems, in pubs) as a mixed bag. Some are dull and really make you question publishing decisions while others, such as James Ball’s book, are entertaining and diverting and its very silliness is cause for delight.

Think of a song, think of a memorable line, and then imagine applying some form of scientific (loose interpretation to be sure) test of its veracity, and you have this book. 

How many tears does it take to “Cry me a River”? :

“Research published in 1966 showed the average tear is 6.2 microlitres in volume, suggesting that for a single litre we need around 161,000 tears.”

How do you solve a problem like Maria?:

“You adjust your institutional expectations to properly accommodate her. A simple answer might be a more precise job description, allied with a rigorous appraisal structure and regular contact with a line manager. As with many questions, the answer is ‘better HR’”.

As they say…too much fun! Enjoy this quirky but oddly diverting book.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 17 March 2019)

Written in History: Letters that Changed the World

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson

At a time in history when we ‘assume’ letter writing is a thing of the past, it is encouraging to find that in fact letters remain a form of communication that has permanency. I say encouraging because when the art of letter writing is executed well, it provides a source of material that is without peer.

Letters of import, letters of intimacy, letters between friends and enemies, and letters as official documentary evidence are all included in this collection. And, people from all walks of life are represented. Politicians, royalty and artists are among those whose words are captured on paper forever.

The author contextualizes letter writing at various stages of history and discovers, surprisingly, that it is enjoying somewhat of a comeback. As we realize that modern technology has its limitations, we turn to those social activities that have proven their worth over time.

The chapter headings indicate the breadth of the material contained within. Some examples: love, family, creation, tourism, war, discovery, disaster, decency and fate. Two samples: “I am an enthusiast, but not a crank…” (Wilbur Wright to the Smithsonian); “I pray the gods that whatever time is left for me I may pass with you safe and well with our country in a flourishing condition…” (Augustus to Caius Caesar). 

The author frames each letter with historical background on the writer and recipient, and thus provides a fascinating, comprehensive account of the art of letter writing over the centuries. 

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 17 March 2019)

A Keeper

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Graham Norton

Published by Hodder & Stoughton

It is easy to be cynical about the writing prowess of people otherwise known to us through their media profile; it is just as easy to read their work and assess it on its own merit.

In that spirit, I am pleased to assure readers that this book, A Keeper, by Graham Norton is an enjoyable and well-written novel that resonates on many levels.

We meet Elizabeth Keene as she returns to the Irish village of her youth to finalise the affairs of her recently deceased mother. Although she has relatives still living in the area, her home and life is in New York with her young adult son.

It is as Elizabeth is reading through letters her mother has left behind that she realizes her knowledge of her father is, to say the least, scant and, indeed, her knowledge of her mother is incomplete. She had been told her father died when she was very young, and was not privy to any further information.

Elizabeth gets drawn into the history of her parents and travels to another part of Ireland, the farming area where the Foley family was known locally as the family that had endured great tragedy. The connection to Elizabeth is that Edward Foley was her father. 

There are many twists in the tale, told both through Elizabeth and Patricia’s eyes as the action moves between Patricia’s life and the present day. We learn that Patricia ‘disappeared’ for two years after answering a Lonely Hearts advertisement in a Farmer’s journal, only to return to her village with a baby (Elizabeth) and resume her life. We discover, with Elizabeth, that her father’s story is quite desperate and that Patricia was in fact not her biological mother. To say more would be to ruin the surprise of the turn of events in this novel. Suffice to say, the facts of these lives are intriguing and more than vaguely unsettling. 

This novel works on many levels. The characters are interesting and elicit, at turns, empathy and anger, and the descriptions of the Irish landscape are evocative. However, it is the overall picture Graham Norton paints of Ireland that resonate so strongly. Being an Australian of Irish descent, and having grown up in a large family with three generations under the one roof, I can absolutely identify with the sentiments expressed by some of the characters. Australia’s white settlement history is so ‘new’ that it is only a few generations back when Irish immigration populated our cities and towns. My family identifies with, and uses, turns of phrase handed down to us from those immigrants.

I was unexpectedly sentimental when reading Patricia, Edward, and Elizabeth’s stories as they held more than a passing connection to relatives living here, on the other side of the world. The village atmosphere that pervaded inner city Melbourne, as described by my mother and grandmother; the three Hackett boys who married three sisters, living in country Victoria; and the stories handed down from those who travelled out from Tipperary and Listowel.

Having read Graham Norton’s other novel, Holding, I think this latest work is a much more accomplished novel. He captures perfectly the atmosphere and characteristics of a community, and presents us with memorable characters.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 3 February 2019)





The Rosie Result

Graeme Simsion

Published by Text Publishing 2019

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The publication and success of The Rosie Project is one of the remarkable stories of recent Australian publishing. This was added to by the publication of its sequel, The Rosie Effect and now this final instalment, The Rosie Result. It is rare to enjoy in equal measure all books in a series but author Graeme Simsion manages it with aplomb.

We first met Don Tillman as he began an extremely detailed and determined quest to meet a partner; he accomplished his mission and Rosie Jarman entered the story. We then followed their journey to New York and observed Don as he came to grips with the pending arrival of their first child.

As we delve into The Rosie Result, Don and Rosie, along with their son, Hudson, are back in Australia. Don and Rosie have work issues and Hudson is experiencing problems at school. His teacher and principal have decided he needs an assessment to determine whether or not he has autism, and their initial discussion with Don and Rosie forms the basis for Don’s problem-solving proficiency to come to the fore.  Changes are made to Don and Rosie’s employment situations, and old friends and relatives are consulted and conscripted to help.

As with the earlier books, there are delightful descriptions of the daily situations Don, in particular, finds himself in which provide much of the humour of the novel. There are also several interactions with others that highlight Don’s unique approach to the world and the similarities in behaviour that he shares with Hudson.

Reading The Rosie Result made me revisit the two earlier books and come to the conclusion that Graeme Simsion has, with the Rosie books, written the perfectly balanced trilogy. In The Rosie Project, we are engaged immediately by Don Tillman; The Rosie Effect allows us to get to know Rosie more; and in The Rosie Result we cheer for all three – Don, Rosie and Hudson – as they develop their family life.

My perfect musical experience is when the composer sets a strong foundation, allows the music to unfold in unexpected ways, and then neatly brings it back to the beginning, referencing the opening bars as the music fades. Graeme Simsion has succeeded to create this effect with his books. They combine to create a world where there is continuity, exploration and, ultimately, affirmation.

He presents us a character, in Don, who, by virtue of his personality, makes us appreciate the nuances of human interaction. We leave the books with a hope that we will be as brave as Don in our ‘reading’ of others; we will be as attuned as Don to the true meaning behind the words of others; and that we will approach daily difficulties with the same focus and unwavering attention to the end goal.

The characters of Don and Hudson prove the implicit value of accepting diversity in others. The books, especially The Rosie Result, gently but effectively lead the reader to consider what it is to be human and how best each of us can navigate our social environment.

The Rosie trilogy is deserving of the accolades it has garnered and The Rosie Result is the best possible goodbye to the world of Don Tillman.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 3 February 2019)



These three books were part of a group of ten that I listed as ideas for holiday reading at the end of 2018. It is always enjoyable to wander through your personal library and recall the books that amused, enthralled, and, as is the beauty of the written word, opened up new worlds.

Pagan’s Crusade

Catherine Jinks

Hodder & Stoughton, 1992

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Children’s Book Council of Australia Short-Listed Book

It is twelfth century Jerusalem – the time of the Crusades. 16 year-old Pagan is assigned to work for Lord Roland, a Templar knight.

Exuberant and very funny, the setting might be medieval, but the teenager is straight out of any time in history - irreverent, fearless, and sharp.

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Magic Bus: on the hippie trail from Istanbul to India

Rory Maclean

Viking, 2006

Forty years on from the deluge of travellers headed East from Europe, Rory sets out to discover what’s become of 6,000 miles of ‘hippie highway’. I read anything this man writes; he has such an engaging style.

The Abode of Love: a memoir

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Kate Barlow

Bantam, 2006

This is not the tale of a religious cult in which the leader is ultimately exposed as a money-seeking exploiter of the weak. But, rather, a glimpse into the basic human need of belief in something regardless of whether or not it is rational or probable. It is, above all, the story of one girl’s understanding that her world is unique. I doubt I will ever read anything quite like this again.

 

Books that Saved My Life

Michael McGirr

Published by Text Publishing, 2018.

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Tis the time of year (December) when an avid book reader’s thoughts turn to the books that one meant to read during the preceding eleven months and the books to add to a new year’s reading list. Intentionally, or not, Michael McGirr helps this process along by presenting charming vignettes of forty books that resonate with him for a variety of reasons. Subtitled “Reading for wisdom, solace and pleasure”, the list is eclectic and surprising.

Beginning with To Kill a Mockingbird, Michael invites us into his reading life. And, ruminates on why we read, what value it adds to our understanding of our world, and the wonder of discovering an author and his/her works. When talking with a student about Harper Lee’s classic, he makes the point that the student’s approach (surf the net for the salient points!) is such a missed opportunity. He remarks at one point that “at every season of life, the mind needs to be nurtured” and that “books help people develop empathy and compassion”. To skim or, worse yet, not to engage on any level with books is, to the passionate reader, a cause for concern – dismissing possibly the best avenue we have to explore the human mind and heart. Michael’s connection with these books, and no doubt many more, is a perfect example of why reading matters.

Some of the other authors included in Michael’s collection are Annie Proulx (Close Range); Toni Morrison (Beloved); J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban); Vera Brittain (Testament of Youth); and Thea Astley (Reaching Tin River).

A Letter from Paris

Louisa Deasey

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Published by Scribe, 2018

Far removed from the usual ode to one of the world’s most famous cities and most interesting cultures, A Letter from Paris is in fact a study of physical letters from Paris and other French locations, and letters across countries and decades.

Louisa was six years of age when her father, Denison Deasey, died. The first letter she ever received in her life was from her French godmother, Giselle, who, she would come to know, was her father’s first wife. She received many letters over the years and indeed met Giselle when she visited Louisa and her family in Australia. And, then, the letters stopped and all trace was lost of this most enigmatic French woman.

A chance letter from a French woman who is wondering if indeed Louisa is related to Denison Deasey sets off a series of events and meetings that will change forever Louisa and her siblings’ understanding of their father and the life he lived.

The backdrop of this book is France, London and Australia of the late 1940s and the art and cultural society of the times. It is also imbued with the feeling of these locales today, as Louisa discovers her father’s world and her own French connections as an adult woman.

It is poignant, emotional and fascinating, especially when she goes in search of Giselle who, by this stage, is an elderly woman.

  (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 2 December 2018)

 

 

Shakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the greatest mystery in literature

Stuart Kells

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Published by Text Publishing 2018

I would hazard a guess that the blibliophiles amongst us have imagined William Shakespeare surrounded by walls of books, perhaps dipping in and out of his favourites, as he created some of the world’s greatest literature.

Stuart Kells lets us down gently, revealing that the ‘library’ is more a figment of our collective imaginations than a verifiable accompaniment to the Bard’s life and work. Indeed, he adds salt to the wound by reminding us of all those determined to dispel the ‘myth’ of Shakespeare himself, let alone any library he may have amassed. 

In a typically erudite and enjoyable fashion, Stuart Kells takes us through the history of the search for a library, any library, associated with William Shakespeare, and the various theories that abound about its existence or otherwise. He also delights with tales of the ‘searchers’, those who have spent inordinate amounts of time trying to uncover who really wrote the works we love so much and that endure, and devising ways to verify their particular theory or theories. An example:

“Over many meetings and glasses of Heathcote shiraz, John tutored me on the Shakespeare authorship controversy and the Nevillian heresy. Sir Henry Neville is a recent addition to a list of aristocratic author candidates that includes three monarchs and eight earls, plus Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Anthony Sherley and William Seymour, the ‘illegitimate son’ of Lady Catherine Grey and the Earl of Hertford.”

The ‘John’ Stuart refers to is John O’Donnell of Melbourne, Australia whom Stuart met at Monash university – “a hotbed of Shakespeare scholarship – mostly unorthodox and not confined to the English department.”

This is a wide-ranging yet succinct account of the search for Shakespeare’s library. It fits nicely alongside Stuart’s other works – Rare, Penguin and The Lane Brothers, The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders, and The Big Four. He is a writer of enormous energy, imbuing his works with fulsome detail, amusing anecdotes and side stories, and an infectious enthusiasm for the subject.

“The search for Shakespeare’s library is much more than a treasure hunt, or a case of Shakespeare fetishism. The library’s fate has profound implications for literature, for national and cultural identity, and for the global, twenty-first-century, multi-million dollar Shakespeare industry. It bears upon fundamental principles of art, history, meaning and truth.


Reading this in the ‘introduction’ is a catalyst for continuing on and savouring every chapter of this entertaining addition to our modern libraries.


Photographers on Photography: How the masters see, think and shoot.

Henry Carroll

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Published by Laurence King Publishing Ltd. 2018

This relatively slim, small volume hides an expansive look at the art of photography and famous photographers plying their craft. It is also a meditation on the nature and influence of photography, on the photographer, the subject, and the audience. It brings us face-to-face with our own reactions to photographs and points us to some inconvenient truths and some big ideas.

Interspersed with one-on-one interviews with some of the photographers represented are pages of images, accompanied by a succinct explanation, usually in their own words, of how specific photographers go about their craft.

In this age of ‘selfies’ and the (false) idea that we are all photographers, it is a fascinating account of what sets ‘real’ photography apart, and the nonsense that selfies are in any way anything other than a construct of who we want others to see rather than our true self.

There are some iconic images, there are startling concepts put forward, and there are wonderful “bites” of text that encapsulate the photographer’s own sense of the craft.

It is a wonderfully surprising and rewarding book (and an ironic plain cover!)

  (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 11 November 2018)

Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow

Lucy Worsley

Published by Hodder and Stoughton 2

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With a bona fide expertise in her subject, Lucy Worsley presents a cleverly constructed window into the life of the astonishing Queen Victoria. She earmarks twenty-seven significant dates in the Queen’s life and, through those seminal moments, uncovers the character, intelligence, and stoicism of the woman. Beginning in 1818 and ending in 1901, the reader is privy to the importance of days such as her Coronation and wedding; the days when she met with remarkable people such as Florence Nightingale and Disraeli; and days we can relate to such as Christmas.

Victoria has often been portrayed as dour, dressed in black, and seemingly deeply unhappy. It is only recently that historians are looking back to her young days, this time suggesting she was the dancing, lighthearted young woman of her time. This author prefers to offer a more detailed and nuanced view – as she says, neither “potato” nor “dancing princess”.  She portrays Victoria as a diligent woman, committed to her responsibilities, and a prolific chronicler of her own life and her times.

For those of us who perhaps are not immediately drawn to such works on the Royal Family and its legacy, this is in fact quite mesmerizing; it details the life of an extraordinary woman in an extraordinary time in history. 

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 11 November 2018)



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Lethal White

Robert Galbraith

Published by Sphere 2018

Books by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym J.K. Rowling) are ones I eagerly anticipate and, thus far, thoroughly immerse myself in and enjoy. Lethal White is the fourth in the series and, whilst they are satisfying reads in their own right, I recommend you start at the first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling. The characters of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are perfect foils for each other as they navigate their way through somewhat challenging private lives. Cormoran is ex-military, the son of a legendary rock star, an amputee, and a private investigator. Robin, originally sent to Cormoran from an agency to do secretarial work, is now a partner with him in the agency, much to the dismay of her husband and parents back in Yorkshire.  

A young distressed man barges into Cormoran’s office, acting erratically and claiming to have witnessed an awful crime many years earlier. Billy’s appearance leaves Cormoran unsettled and intrigued. Little does he know that it will spark an investigation that reaches into the British parliament, has Robin working undercover, and brings Strike back into the odd world that is the British class system. Strike and Ellacott are interesting characters and, as a team, make a perfect partnership. They have developed a deep trust in each other and are becoming inextricably drawn to one another, to the exclusion of others.

If you are not a reader of crime fiction you may miss these books, and it would be a pity, they really are very enjoyable. Lethal White is more than 600 pages and I was so enthralled, I read it over just a few nights.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 7 October 2018)

 

Rusted Off: Why country Australia is fed up.

Gabrielle Chan

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Published by Vintage 2018

Gabrielle Chan is a political journalist who found herself in the unlikely position of taking up residence in country New South Wales. Unlikely, because she was born in Singapore and raised in Coogee. After years spent in the cut and thrust of Canberra’s press corps, she raises a family in a rural community where the ramifications of government policies are writ large in the life of the township. Gabrielle makes interesting observations that those of us living in the cities of Australia have probably never thought about and she challenges what would seem to be some standard preconceptions. One example is the tendency to categorise rural folk as either red necks or ‘salt of the earth’ types whereas the reality is that, like any community, there are people of all political persuasions undertaking all manner of working activities. She dissects the current distrust of major political parties through conversations with people from her town, and she explains the challenge the National party has to retain its once ‘rusted on’ constituents. It makes for thought-provoking reading and is timely given looming state and federal elections.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 7 October 2018)



Body and Soul

John Harvey

Published by William Heinemann 2018

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The Charlie Resnick series of books by author John Harvey rank amongst my most favoured of the crime fiction genre. I would recommend the first book, Lonely Hearts, to anyone who is a fan of crime fiction and, importantly, to those who are enticed to read their first crime novel. These “Resnick” books are just part of the body of work produced by this most successful writer. 

When the Elder novels came out, I was thoroughly engaged by the lead character, Frank Elder. This title, Body and Soul, is the last in that series and is wonderful.

Previous titles, in order, are Flesh and Blood, Ash and Bone, and Darkness and Light. Elder, having retired from the police force, moved from Nottingham to Cornwall and set up home in an isolated cottage but, as one would expect, the past soon invaded his life and took him back into the world of the investigator.

Elder’s relationship with his daughter, Katherine, is pivotal, running concurrently and intersecting with the particular investigation he is working on in each of the four novels. In Body and Soul, Frank is surprised and worried when Katherine visits him and he can sense her emotional distress. He learns of her odd relationship with a famous artist and has to confront that she has been self-harming.  Post the murder of the artist, the police become aware of an assault that had taken place at the opening of an exhibition of his work; an assault perpetrated by Frank Elder. Separate to this storyline is the escape from prison of a man who had, in an earlier book in the series, kidnapped and abused Katherine. There is a scramble to try to find him and get him back under police custody but to no avail. The ending to Body and Soul is heartbreaking and left me wanting to reread the series.

John Harvey is such an accomplished person. Novelist and poet, he has also adapted the works of others for radio and television, and he ran Slow Dancer Press for many years.  His writing is engaging; his plot construction without peer; and his command of language of the highest order. To add to all this, he is also a fantastic guest at writers’ festivals as we knew when he visited us in Melbourne some years ago. On a personal note, congratulations, John, on another tour de force with Body and Soul.

 


Napoleon’s Australia: The incredible story of Bonaparte’s secret plan to invade Australia.

Terry Smith

Published by Ebury Press, 2018.

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I would be interested to read the curriculum for Australian History as it is taught (if it is taught) in schools today as this book opens up the subject to me in ways I was never taught. From the Dutch to the Spanish, to the English and the French, European interest in this southern land can be identified from as early as the 1600s, and earlier than that by other parties.

At age sixteen, Napoleon Bonaparte tried to join an expedition but was unsuccessful, and he went on to forge his military career; that rejection did not, however, dampen his interest in this part of the world. Indeed, he would come to strategise and plot the invasion of the continent. His wife, Josephine, amassed a huge collection of ‘Australiana’, inclusive of flora and fauna, that would also have a profound effect on Napoleon’s plans.

This book is best described as an historical account wrapped up in a ‘boys-own’ adventure story. It is accessible and fascinating. From the first page, the reader is captivated and intrigued by the attention on this part of the world.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 2 September 2018)

 

The Mess We’re In: How our politics went to hell and dragged us with it.

Bernard Keane

Published by Allen & Unwin, 2018.

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Canberra correspondent for Crikey and former public servant and speechwriter, Bernard Keane freely admits to being grumpy. The current state of politics is causing his angst, not least because he fundamentally believes in democracy and that our social order has served us well to this point. Whether it be Australian, American or British politics, factors are conspiring to have us believe that all is lost. Fake popularists, economic ‘nationalism’, customer alienation, and more are all leading us to a state of general despair. The notion of a decline in civility is perhaps, in my view, the most telling as when there is no regard for others, it is easy to manipulate and go beyond the boundaries of responsibility and truth. Keane does offer ways to combat this current malaise, especially in Australia: suggestions include individual action in terms of control of our privacy, an end to political donations, and a demand for transparency. He reminds us that it is arguably one of the best times to be alive so we have hope that change will come.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 2 September 2018)

 

Fodmap Friendly

Georgia McDermott

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Published by Pan Macmillan 2018

There is so much discussion and commentary about food intolerances these days that it is easy to forget that for those suffering from such things everyday is a challenge; to eat well and to be able to enjoy it without any negative consequences is no easy task. In this cookbook, Georgia McDermott gives a clear overview of the issues she has faced all her life, the actions she has taken, and then presents lovely, easy-to-follow recipes. I like her approach – this is what is so let’s work out how we can live with it. Great photographs, clear instructions, and a great diversity of  ingredients make this a nice cookbook for anyone to use.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 5 August 2018)

 

Skin in the Game
Sonya Voumar

Published by Transit Lounge 2018

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As we see the media landscape changing before our eyes, it is interesting to read Sonya Voumard’s account of her years as a journalist, beginning in the 1980s. She has worked as a court reporter and a political reporter; she has worked in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra; and she has worked for the broadsheet media as well as in the corporate sector. Her recollections are against the backdrop of significant times in Australian political history and the evolution of the Australian social character. Her insights into the world of journalism are interesting as are the more personal accounts of how her life has unfolded. This is a story very well told.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 5 August 2018)

 

Alma Mahler

Sasho Dimoski

Translated by Paul Filev

Published by Dalkey Archive Press

www.dalkeyarchive.com

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This slim volume is of interest to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, the translator, Paul Filev, is a freelance translator and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a wonderful supporter of both works in translation and local independent bookstores. Melbourne is a UNESCO City of Literature not least because of its community of bookstores and libraries. I have had the privilege of being a bookseller in Melbourne for forty years (to this point!) and Paul was a significant supporter of Reader’s Feast Bookstore over many years. A few years ago, he chose to hold a book launch in our shop, one reason being the emphasis I had placed on works In Translation, devoting a dedicated area of the store to showcase literature from all over the world. Secondly, I have a sentimental attachment to Irish literary connections and the publisher of this book is named after a Flann O’Brien novel. Thirdly, and obviously from my opening remarks, I am interested in the work of the translator – how he/she is able to capture the language and emotion of a writer’s imagination.

The author, Sasho Dimoski, paints a picture of Alma Mahler, wife to Gustav Mahler, as she bears witness to his last days on earth. He imagines the thoughts and feelings she would have experienced facing the reality of the great composer’s death; and, what his passing would mean for both the choices she has made in the past and her future life.  Each chapter is referenced by one of Mahler’s symphonies and I read this book with his music playing in the background.

Written in Macedonian and translated by Paul Filev, this is a work that in its brevity encapsulates the world of the genius and the price paid for extraordinary talent by the chosen one and those in his/her orbit. Alma Mahler was a composer herself but it is said she did not pursue her talent once married to Gustav, possibly because he did not wish her to and possibly because of her own decision to concentrate on him. Regardless, she is, in his last days, reviewing the life lived and the sacrifices made and in so doing offering a glimpse into the human condition. What it means to love and be loved; how one’s choices determine the trajectory of a life; and the inescapable reality of the uncertainty of the future.

I don’t know how or why a reader can sense if a translation is true to the original. I remember reading a novel that was jarring in parts, and then reading the author’s notes that she was unhappy with the translated version as it did not capture the essence of her work. I do know that in this instance Mr. Filev has presented a work in English that is descriptive, meditative, and engaging. I was immediately transported to a time and place where a woman is voicing her innermost thoughts, and I cared to ‘travel’ with her as she came to an understanding of herself and her life.

 It is a sensitive and beautiful translation. 

 

 

The Death of Noah Glass

Gail Jones

Published by Text Publishing 2018

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On the death of their father, Martin and Evie Glass enter that period of grief  when the past is summoned and memories frame understanding of the momentous shift that comes with the passing of a parent. Noah Glass was born in 1946 in Western Australia and eventually married a woman who would die young and leave him with two children to raise. He would immerse himself in the world of art and become an expert on an Italian fifteenth century artist. His frequent visits to Italy, sometimes with his children, would ultimately lead to an affair that in turn would lead to the robbery of a piece of sculpture. This is news to Martin and Evie until after Noah’s death in Sydney when a detective begins an investigation into the theft.

Martin, himself an artist, travels to Palermo, Italy to try to uncover the truth whilst Evie moves in to her father’s Sydney apartment to get closer to him and try to order her thinking about the past and the things coming to light about Noah.

This is an enthralling story of people linked by one man and all keenly feeling his loss. It is also a beautifully written tale of two worlds: the Sydney of sunshine, ocean, and vivid colours and the Italy of village life and old customs. It is a satisfying tale and a memorable exploration of familial ties.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 8 July 2018)

 

On Quiet
Nikki Gemmel

Published by MUP 2018

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This small, short book is part of a series, each title written by a different author. In this work, Nikki Gemmel expands on the notion of our lives being so busy that we are missing important, life-affirming moments that feed our soul. She talks of the physical environment and the noisiness of it; the intrusion of technology on the way we live; and the constant interruptions that keep us from being quiet and alone. The importance of solitude and quietness is examined and she draws on examples from her own life and how finding space for herself, to be by herself, has enriched not only her existence but that of her family. It is well worth taking the little time it requires to read it and to ponder how ‘quiet’ could similarly benefit us.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 8 July 2018)

 

Australia Reimagined

Hugh Mackay

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Published by Pan Macmillan 2018

Hugh Mackay says this will be his last non-fiction study on Australia but I for one hope that is not so. He has always presented as a man of reason and integrity, with a genuine curiosity and a keen researcher’s mind. A social scientist, Hugh Mackay has helped us understand our society, acknowledge our cultural idiosyncrasies, and led us to a possible solution to current issues.

In Australia Reimagined, he points out that presently we are an anxious society. Individualism is rampant, society is fragmented, and we are afraid of stillness. All of these leads to a population that is isolated and unable to empathise; each person believing in their own entitlement and operating from a particularly insidious selfishness. Talk of a deficit of compassion and a poisonous ‘busyness’ underpins his overall point that we need to change our ways.

Understanding the human need for connection and that communication is at the heart of a healthy society, Hugh Mackay suggests we need, individually and collectively, to focus on our local community and to take steps to involve ourselves in it and take responsibility for it.

In the second half of the book, he focuses on the notion of convergence, where old lines are blurred and ways of living and working are intersecting or changing altogether; in particular, he looks at religion, politics and education as well as issues of gender, and how our relationship to each has changed.

Hugh Mackay points out that approximately two million Australians are anxious, even though, on a global scale, we are in much better shape than so many other countries. He helps us understand why this is and what we can do to improve our outlook. Regardless of statistics and research, Hugh Mackay maintains an optimism about us and it is this that always makes his commentary all the more influential on how we, the reader, respond to the challenges of our world.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 3 June 2018)

Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies
Kitty Flanagan

Published by Allen & Unwin 2018

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I particularly like the tenor of this book from the Australian comedian, Kitty Flanagan. She is not trying too hard to make us ‘laugh out loud’ nor is she regaling us with tall tales. She is simply recounting experiences from childhood and adulthood that, by their very description, are entertaining. Whether it is the description of her grandmother’s cooking, her time at teachers’ college, or her encounter with the undertaker on a date, it is all amusing and endearing. I especially like her honesty about her choices and her reactions to the predicaments in which she has managed to place herself. She is quick to tell us this is not an autobiography because her mother, on being told she had written a memoir, would have simply asked why? In other words, this is not an indulgent, eco-driven tome but, rather, a pleasant meander through the life of one woman.  

  (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 3 June 2018)

Welcome to Country: A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia

Marcia Langton with Nina Fitzgerald and Amba-Rose Atkinson

Published by Hardie Grant 2018

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Through Marcia Langton’s eyes, we gain insight into aspects of Indigenous life and the knowledge to equip us to travel throughout Indigenous Australia. The first part of the book is an exploration of language, custom, history and culture. The second part is a directory of “tourism experiences” that identify the ways in which we can engage with Indigenous Australia ‘on-the-ground’. Identified by State or Territory, this section mirrors all travel guides, covering galleries and museums, national park locations, and festivals and local performances.

Beautifully designed, it serves as a unique guide to a land and its people. How many of us traverse this continent without engaging with historical and contemporary Indigenous life? Ideal for anyone, local or international, who wants to see and understand this ‘wide brown land’.

 

Bygone Badass Broads
Mackenzi Lee

Published by Abrams 2018

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Evolving from a twitter feed by Mackenzi Lee (a fiction writer), this book celebrates 52 women whose names are probably completely unfamiliar to you but who were influential. They are women from all decades, from countries around the world, and from all walks of life. There is an engineer, a fossil collector, a warrier, and a pirate queen. The woman, Empress Xi Ling Shi, who founded Taoism and created Chinese writing is represented. So too Edith Garrud, the first English fight choreographer for film and stage who had protected Emmaline Pankhurst at her public rallies with a group of specially trained women using Jujitsu.

Presented in an engaging style that would attract young and older readers alike, it is a dip into the history of women in the world.

 

The Ruin

Dervla McTiernan

Published by Harper Collins 2018

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As a bona fide crime fiction tragic, I can attest to the enthusiastic reviews Dervla McTiernan’s novel The Ruin is attracting. Her lead character, Cormac Reilly, is presented as a stoic but troubled man. Such a character is relatively standard in the genre, but the difference with the way Reilly is drawn is that we are not privy to full detail of his past (which makes him interesting) nor is he flawed in the usual way (heavy drinker with a tendency to sit and wallow while listening to jazz!).

Reilly is new to the Galway Garda Station and is acutely aware that he is an outsider; however, that alone does not explain the odd behaviour of his peers and bosses. He knows all is not as it seems but cannot quite put his finger on what is going on. Completely unexpectedly, he is thrust back in time to twenty years earlier when he was a young officer, sent out to investigate a domestic situation. That night he met two children, Jack and Maude Blake. After establishing their mother was dead, Cormac took them to the local hospital where Jack was treated for injuries and Maude disappeared.

In the present day, Jack has just been found dead after what is classed a suicide and Maude has reappeared. Aisling, Jack’s partner, meets Maude for the first time and comes to agree with Maude when she determines that Jack did not kill himself and the police are disinterested in uncovering the truth.

This is a novel that develops ‘quietly’ in that the reader is immersed in the characters and the plot without realizing it is happening; it is that wonderful and relatively rare work that demands you return to it and keep reading, leaving chores and other things aside till you reach the end.

A follow-up novel is in the offing; this is great news as there are so many questions I have about Cormac Reilly’s past and interest in his future in Galway.

 

 

The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders

Stuart Kells

Published by Text 2017 and Counterpoint Press 2018

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The word “library” will conjure up a specific memory or feeling for every reader. It might be the library was an escape from an otherwise fraught childhood; perhaps it was a point of contact in a lonely existence; or perhaps it was the place that sparked an imagination that led to significant choices in life.

It is more than likely that few of us have stopped to ponder that our library experience is but one of millions that have been lived over centuries and in all corners of the globe. Stuart Kells provides us with the context for our library memories and opens up worlds populated with wonderful anecdotes, interesting facts, outrageous characters, and seminal historical moments. He is our guide through the fascinating history of libraries and the people who created them, frequented them, and saved or destroyed them.

This broad sweep of their history introduces us to, among others, mythical libraries, literary libraries, physical and metaphysical libraries. We make the acquaintance of key figures in the history of individual books, and we come to an appreciation for the architects and builders of the world’s most beautiful libraries.

Stuart Kells has a particular skill for taking a broad approach but peppering it with salient details that best illustrate the chronology of the development of his subject. He manages to fill our heads with information that does not overwhelm but educates and delights us. He expertly brings individuals to life on the page and, by so doing, transports us to earlier times and the great repositories of  world literature.  My favourite is the bibliomaniac Richard Heber (1774-1833) who amassed a collection that exceeded 100,000 books and required eight houses for their storage. Tales of book thieves are riveting and stories of hidden bookcases and fake books add to the sense of the story of libraries being as fanciful and enjoyable as any movie we might see or novel we might read.

To be a lover of books is not necessarily to be a lover of libraries or bookstores as I have discovered to my horror (the librarian at an exclusive school who seemed to take pride in telling me that she “hated being surrounded by books all day”). But I defy anyone who has even the most cursory interest in the printed book not to be swept up in Stuart’s obvious affection for libraries and his enthusiasm for the role historical figures who, by virtue of their creation of libraries, have played in inculcating us with a love of books and an appreciation for their inherent beauty.

This is also a book for our time – it is clarion call for those of us who appreciate the role of libraries in the history of the world to protect and defend them from transitory budgeting pressures or unfettered excitement at the new frontier of digitization.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 8 April 2018)

 

Think Before You Like
Guy P. Harrison

Published by Prometheus Books 2017

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Subtitled “social media’s effect on the brain and the tools you need to navigate your newsfeed”, this book will be comforting and worrying in equal measure.  At a time when Facebook is facing scrutiny over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, this book helps explain that, by its very nature, the technical environment in which we operate is destined to expose our thoughts, beliefs, buying patterns, and so much more.  As articulated by a former Google employee: “The internet is the first thing humanity has invented that humanity doesn’t understand.”  And, this sobering thought from historian Yuvel Noah Harari: “In the 21st century our personal data is probably the most valuable resource most humans still have to offer, and we are giving it to the tech giants in exchange for e-mail services and funny cat videos.”

Nevertheless, Harrison presents the positives from this technological age, and most importantly, provides useful information about how we can harness these and take control, to a degree, of how we live.  A key point is that we need to think critically about what we do and how we access the internet; we must analyse the information we are receiving, and take an active part in our online presence.

This book is a thought-provoking, accessible and ultimately useful resource.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 8 April 2018)

 

The Pocket Universal Principles of Art

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John A. Parks

Published by Rockport 2018

I wonder if you are like me – you visit a gallery and become thoroughly captivated by what you see but don’t really understand or appreciate what exactly you are viewing; you know what you like but perhaps not why you like it.

This pocket-sized book is the perfect companion for your gallery visits. It provides “100 key concepts for understanding, analyzing, and practicing art.” Each page features an image that illustrates a point about art – it might be the style, the technique, the cultural context or the physical response it evokes. The saying “don’t leave home without it” was never more apt.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 8 April 2018)

 

The Passengers

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Eleanor Limprecht

Published by Allen and Unwin 2018

 

I grew up with stories of Australia in the 1940s and the arrival of American soldiers, temporarily transforming our cities and having a lasting impact on the society. This well written novel by Eleanor Limprecht explores what is perhaps the most fascinating byproduct of this ‘invasion’; that of war brides.  Thousands of Australian women married American soldiers and then followed them home to the USA after the war. In The Passengers, we meet Sarah, an elderly lady accompanied by her young granddaughter, travelling to Australia by cruise ship. She has not been home to Sydney since she left on a ship in 1946 to travel to Virginia to meet Roy, the young soldier she had known for a few weeks when she married him before he was shipped out to PNG. Hannah, Sarah’s granddaughter, comes to learn of her grandmother’s life both before and after meeting Roy. She is at turns surprised, amazed and confused by the twists and turns of Sarah’s life. At the same time, Hannah is herself on a life journey that is by no means easy or straightforward.

The author met with surviving war brides and is herself no stranger to moving around the globe, having been born in America, lived in Pakistan and is now a resident of Australia. Her characters are likeable and the reader is totally engaged by the details of Sarah’s life as she expertly weaves them in-between the narrative of Hannah’s contemporary life issues.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday4 March 2018)

 

Born a Crime

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Trevor Noah

Published by John Murray, 2017

It is easy to watch late night television from America and imagine the hosts have come from relatively uneventful backgrounds and have found fame with ease. Not so Trevor Noah, current host of the The Daily Show and successful comedian. Trevor was born in South Africa a few years prior to Nelson Mandela being released from prison but he came into the world, as he says, a “crime” given that he was the son of a white Swiss father and black African mother and such a union was still illegal at the time.  It is a remarkable story of a childhood held hostage by the prejudices of his society and by the dysfunction of his family unit. He begins each chapter with information on the history of Apartheid. The story that follows each chapter opening illuminates this history and brings it into sharp focus , as it impacted on the life of this young man. The stories are thoughtful and interesting and, at turns, heartbreaking and humorous.  The abuse his mother and Trevor suffered at the hands of his stepfather is made even more horrifying by the lack of support from the authorities. Despite the seriousness of his background, Trevor Noah presents an uplifting and engaging memoir.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday4 March 2018)

 

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There it is again: collected writings

Don Watson

Published by Vintage

Famous for his facility with language, Don Watson’s beautiful writing is on display in this collection of previously published articles. Subjects covered include sport, nature, history, international politics and, of course, the local political scene. Particular favourites for me are the article on the retirement of cricketer, Steve Waugh (“Why we loved the other PM) and the Afterword of Recollections of a Bleeding Heart contained in the tenth anniversary edition.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 3 February 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

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A Timeline of Australian food: from mutton to MasterChef

Jan O’Connell

Published by New South

I would label this book as a trip down memory lane and very good fun. It is also a terrific snapshot of the history of food in this country. Spanning from the 1860s to the present time, it is full of interesting facts (a book was produced in 1898 that decried the cooking and consuming of meat, called The Book of Diet; the first ‘organic farming society’ was formed in 1944) and identifies how the new settlers turned their backs on local produce and began introducing new foods that continued (and continues) to this day where the good food guides can showcase more than forty cuisines. If you want to know when the first Granny Smith apple was grown, who was the first Australian chocolatier, or want to revel in the fact (as I do) that ice-cream has been on the shelves since 1906, then you will enjoy this book. It is full of photographs and old-time product advertisements.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 3 February 2018)

 

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The Life of a Song
Edited by David Cheal & Jan Dalley

Published by Brewer’s 2017

Originating as articles in the weekend FT, this compilation of the origin of fifty much-loved songs is both fascinating and enjoyable. As mentioned in the introduction to the book, this is about the music itself rather than the singer or its commercial success.

The piece on Red Red Wine recorded by UB40 explains that when identifying the composer, they believed N. Diamond was an unknown Jamaican songwriter. Of course, it was Neil Diamond. A picture is painted when we are told that Edith Piaf wrote La Vie en Rose while sitting at an outdoor Parisian café with Marianne Michel who was bemoaning the fact that no one was writing her new songs.

Jim Weatherly, composer of Midnight Train to Georgia, had contact in recent years with a Canadian radio producer and son of a train enthusiast who told him he had checked, no trains left for Georgia at midnight in August 1973!

These wonderful anecdotes sit alongside historical and poignant facts about the creation of these fifty songs. The book also includes black and white photographs of some of the artists who have performed them over the years.  Songs include Over the Rainbow, Born in the USA, Starman, and God Bless the Child. It is an eclectic but balanced list, and a lovely browse through the song tracks of our lives.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 7 January 2018)

 

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Australian Gypsies: The Secret History

Mandy Sayer

Published by New South Publishing 2017

Until picking up this book I had no idea we had a Gypsy community in Australia. The author makes the point that in beginning to research this history, she could find only four scant references to gypsies in any of the literature, yet it is known that people from the Romani community were amongst the earliest convict arrivals. Mandy Sayer helpfully gives a brief history of the Romani people and explains the differences between some Romani communities and, for instance, the tinkers of Ireland. She meets Romani families and provides fascinating information about their way of life, both in the past and today, and provides the historical background to how these communities evolved, and the external societal influences that dictated how Romani people lived and worked.  Whilst reading the book, it struck me as an important but previously untold part of our history:  “For 230 years, the Gypsies of Australia have lived in the shadows of history…..”

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 7 January 2018)

 

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Best in Travel 2018

Lonely Planet

Published November 2017

This compact guide to potential holiday destinations for next year is interesting as it contains an eclectic range of places as well as identifying unusual types of holidays. It is divided into the ten best countries, regions, and cities with the Australian capital, Canberra, getting the nod alongside Oslo, Hamburg and Seville.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 10 November)

 

 

 

 

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Still Lucky

Rebecca Huntley

Published 2017

Distilling the information gathered over more than ten years, social researcher Rebecca Huntley looks at Australia and Australians today and reflects on the similarities and changes to the “lucky country” as depicted by Donald Horne more than fifty years ago. The conclusions reached are sometimes surprising; whilst we may think the world is very different now to that of Horne’s era however the same worries and aspirations seem to apply. Of particular interest are Huntley’s comments on our responses to apartment living and the endurance of the Australian spirit.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 10 November)

 

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Two Kinds of Truth

Michael Connelly

Published November 2017

As an aficionado of the crime fiction genre over my reading life (some five decades) I can attest to the fact that Michael Connelly has never let this reader down. Every work has been of the highest calibre and he has managed to keep the readers’ interest in his character of Harry Bosch alive whilst introducing other characters and making them similarly engaging.

A case from thirty years earlier is raised with Bosch as the subject of investigation, with the convicted killer set to appeal on the basis of new evidence coming to light in the form of previously undetected DNA.  If the appeal works, it calls into question all of the cases Harry successfully closed over his long and illustrious career. He is still working cases, albeit not as a fully paid up member of the police force, and is caught up in undercover work to bring to justice the killers of a pharmacist and his son.

Every time I pick up a new Harry Bosch novel, I am immediately back in his world as Michael Connelly manages to seamlessly have us inhabit Bosch’s world. Other writers can sometimes disappoint; that is never the case with Connelly.

 

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Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens

Alison Weir

Published by Jonathan Cape, November 2017

This is the first in a series of four books by renowned author Alison Weir. It explores the lives of the first five queens who followed the Norman Conquest of 1066. It begins with Matilde of Flanders, and follows with Matilda of Scotland, Adeliza of Louvain, Matilda of Boulogne and the Empress Maud.  Weir makes two interesting points: any information available mostly comes from monastic chronicles and all but one of the medieval queens were of the high royal blood of Europe. Working with relatively scant material, Weir nonetheless draws full and interesting biographies of these figures from history.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 12 November)

 

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Ada: comedian, dancer, fighter

Kaz Cooke

Published by Viking, November 2017

 

Writing a fictionalized account of the life of an Australian woman from the 1890s/1900s, Kaz Cooke imbues her story with humour, anecdote and interesting historical information. Ada Delroy was a Vaudevillian who travelled throughout the world before setting up her dance troupe and traversing Australia. Drawing on research from every state library, Kaz Cooke brings us the story of a mesmerizing character who offers a particular view of life at the time, meeting all manner of personalities and landing in all sorts of unusual situations. Written as a result of a Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria 2013-2015, Cooke obviously immersed herself in Ada’s world.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 12 November)

 

 

*This review was written in 2009 and this book by Ros Moriarty remains firmly in my list of top five all time favourite and most influential books.

Listening to Country

Ros Moriarty

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As I write this review, I am yet to finish Listening to Country. I could have finished it by this time but I am savouring the experience of ‘listening’ to this book. It is perhaps the most lyrical and evocative book I have read in years. Ros Moriarty is married to John, an Aboriginal man, and they have three children. From the earliest years of their marriage, they have travelled home to John’s country and family, a journey that, each time, holds special meaning for everyone as John was taken from his mother when a young boy.  With her children now young adults, Ros undertakes an extraordinary journey with John’s female relatives. She travels to the Northern Territory’s Tanami Desert with these remarkable women to perform ceremony. Ros Moriarty, in sharing her experiences with us, has created a beautiful rendering of the wonder that results when one human being connects with another. She has provided a lovely portrait of the natural grace and humility of good women. And, she has offered her readers the chance to just be still and listen to this land, its people, and our own hearts.

 

The Cello Suites

Eric Siblin

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“It doesn’t get any better than this” is a phrase that comes to mind as I write this review of Eric Siblin’s The Cello Suites. Johann Sebastian Bach and books! The composer whose music touches my heart the most is revealed in this meticulously researched and beautifully written book. Eric Siblin had his most evocative Bach moment as he sat listening to the Cello Suites in the courtyard of a villa that was once owned by Pablo Casals. Casals was a young boy when, in 1890, he was walking with his father through Barcelona’s Ramblas and they loitered at a second-hand store selling sheet music. Neither father nor son could believe their eyes as they realised what was sitting in front of them, a score with the title “Six Sonatas or Suites for Solo Violoncello by Johann Sebastian Bach”. So began the Catalan cellist’s journey towards greatness as an interpreter of this most glorious music. The book, in alternating chapters, traces Bach and Casals’ lives. It is a celebration of the power of music, the nature of true genius, and of lives well lived. I have been reading it as I listen to Pablo Casals performing the Suites. This bookseller of Catalan heritage has been immersed, as was Eric Siblin, in the wonder that is Bach’s composition and Casals musicianship. So, come to think of it, it is Bach and books with a Catalan thread. The only way it could get even better is if I could find an Irish connection – the main corner of this Dalmau’s heart. We have limited stock of Casals’ recording and I would urge readers to listen and read simultaneously. We readers owe a debt to Eric Siblin for taking such care with the greatness that is Bach and Casals (I deliberately use the present tense as they are very much part of my world).