Archive for the ‘Books I’ve reviewed’ Category

Back ten years ago, I wrote a lot on this blog about books I had read about the history of settlement and the aboriginal experience of it in Australia. And last weekend brought me back to that reading.

I spent the weekend in Richmond, by the Hawkesbury River (the Deerubbin shores, in the local Darug language) learning songs responding to aboriginal culture, and learning songs written by local aboriginal women.

Richmond is a beautiful colonial town, one of the five “Macquarie towns” with many historic buildings dating back to the 1810s and 1820s.

It is also very close to the location of the Secret River, a fictionalised exploration of one man’s experience, with his family, of the gradual colonisation and disposession of Australia by the British settlers. Deerubbin is the Secret River of the book, and the aboriginal women I was learning from over the weekend were descended from the people whose land was taken to build the beautiful Georgian town we were singing in.


Barangaroo on Australia Day 2017

It was a strange feeling to wander around at lunchtime admiring the Georgian architecture, and come back to singing this song with its Darug words:

Gurugal wirri galgala guwi
(Long ago bad sickness come)
Biyal marri iyora booni
(No more big people)

words about the vanishing of a people to make way for that beautiful Georgian architecture.

Aunty Jacinta Tobin, author of the words of that Australia Day song, talked to us a lot about  her vision is for all of us here in Australia to share the aboriginal history. She wrote a song for Australia Day for whitefellas to sing to be inclusive. Her words, in the most beautiful part of the song make that real.

(We care)
(Let’s love)
Wugul marri
(One big)

Part of sharing the aboriginal history is realising how anyone sharing in the riches of modern Australia is also sharing in the dispossession of its original people.

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Book meme

I’m not one for memes, much, but how could I resist a book one (from susoz)?

Edited to add: I’ve put links to all the others I’ve found in my sidebar, as I’ve found the variety of choices fascinating (and there’s a few books I need to read, too).

1. One book you have read more than once
Only one? I’ll pick a serious one – The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson, which I often go back to if it’s been over a year since I read it, and one I’ll read if my brain is too tired – Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold.

2. One book you would want on a desert island
Very tricky – it needs to have enough to it that I’ll want to reread it constantly, but at the same time not be one I’ve read to death (see my last answer), or one that I haven’t read yet, but when I try to get into it it will be deadly dull. Possession, by AS Byatt – I’ve read it once, and loved it, and I keep meaning to read it again.

3. One book that made you laugh
Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe, by Bill Bryson. Cheating to pick the same author twice, but quite a different genre from the first one. If you’ve ever backpacked around Europe – it will make you laugh too.

4. One book that made you cry
I don’t cry much at movies or books, so I’m going to cheat and claim a book that made me cry first as a movie –Once Were Warriors, by Alan Duff.

5. One book you wish you had written
This is more about my ideal job than book writing per se – The big shift: Welcome to the third Australian culture : the Bernard Salt report, by Bernald Salt. Bernald Salt is a demographer, who analyses all the statistics he can find about the country and writes books about them. I’ve never actually read any of his books, so maybe I should do that before claiming one! So one that I have read is The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel, by Jasper Fforde – a dazzling romp through the literary world (literally).

6. One book you wish had never been written
The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot. This is going to mark me out as a philistine, but I read it for English in Year 11, and by the time I had finished it, I couldn’t remember the story well enough to write a book review, I found it such a hard slog.

7. One book you are currently reading
By my bedside table, I have about three I’m thinking of starting soon, but that doesn’t really count. I’ve just finished The Smell of the Nightby Andrea Camilleri (a mystery set in a fictional town in Sicily).

8. One book you have been meaning to read
1421: The Year China Discovered America, by Gavin Menzies. I love popular non fiction, particular about bits of history I know nothing about, but somehow whenever I put this on my short list to read, something else gets in ahead of it.

9. One book that changed your life
I don’t think a book has ever changed my life. I can’t think of any off the top of my head. The best “self-improvement” kind of book I’ve ever read (probably the only one that I thought was any good) was A Woman’s Guide to the Language of Success: Communicating With Confidence and Power, by Phyllis Mindell, which is a very insightful book analysing the linguistic reasons behind that oft-discussed scenario of a woman delivering an insight to a meeting, being ignored, and then a man in the same meeting delivering the same insight 2 minutes later to great acclaim. It’s not just about sexism; it’s about how the message is delivered.

Edited to add: Since I wrote this, I have just remembered a book that changed my life (but not my memory!)A Woman’s Guide to Running: Beginner to Elite, by Annemarie Jutel. It is a simple book, but contained the insight that if you want to run for exercise, you have to run slowly. Seems obvious, but wasn’t to me until I read it.

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I occasionally peek at Library Thing, a fantastic idea which links people’s libraries up with each other (via Phantom Scribbler and Raising WEG). The great thing about it is that you can have a look at similarities between your library and other people’s to help you figure out what book you might like to read next. It’s like Amazon‘s “if you like this, you might also like…” but with more power, because it has all the books someone owns, not just the ones they bought recently from an internet service.

After I get over my admiration at people who have managed to enter more than 1,000 books in a database, I wander the authors in search of inspiration.

I’ve been rereading my Christopher Brookmyre, so I had a look at other authors also owned by Brookmyre owners. I was astonished to find that Carl Hiassen wasn’t on the top 10 list of any Brookmyre book I tried. So I did the same with him, and sure enough Christopher Brookmyre wasn’t either.

So given that experience, I imagine few of the readers of this blog will have any idea why I’m astonished. Basically, they are the only two authors I know (except perhaps Dave Barry) in their genre: politically biting, hilariously satirical thrillers. But Carl Hiassen’s books are set in Florida, and Christopher Brookmyre’s are set in Scotland. Even more than that, I read somewhere that Christopher Brookmyre consciously modelled himself on Carl Hiassen (different causes, very different peculiarities in his characters, and good enough writing that it doesn’t matter anyway, but it’s quite recognisable).

If that wasn’t enough, the global publishing industry has basically carved up the english speaking world into the US, Canada and Mexico, and everywhere else. It’s improved in the last 10 years (at least here in Australia), but it’s not always that easy to get books from the other side.

It makes me wonder what other great authors (more likely from the US side of the divide) I’m missing out on by only getting the best-sellers on my bookshelves.


I once gave my parents a prospective present (I think it was a wedding anniversary) that I would catalogue their entire book collection for them. I think I got through one shelf – about a hundred books – before I realised that I was kidding myself. Even with a laptop and easy searching, I can’t imagine how long it would take to catalogue our more than a thousand books.

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I’ve been home on holidays for the past two weeks, and trying to sort out a few things. Yesterday, I tackled books. I read a book a few years ago talking about the ideal to organise books. One of the (all very sensible) things it said was “always leave room for expansion. Put some ornaments in between books, so that you can fill them in later”.

Well in our house, for probably the last 10 years, the problem is figuring out which category can now safely be put in a box in the loft or (even harder) given away to Lifeline. We had quite a good period for 2-3 years after we went from the more-money-than-sense-no-kids phase to the single-income-with-a-mortgage-and-two-kids phase, but we’re back to our old book buying habits as we gradually figure out which of the things we gave up we really still like (actually that’s mostly my fault – E is still much more sensible). This time, I managed (just) to get things more sorted out by putting some toys away in the playroom that had been occupying valuable bookshelf space.

I really need to get into the habit of using the library. The trouble is I’m a sucker for good book marketing, as done by good bookshops (easy categorisation, shop recommendations, latest releases highlighted etc) and libraries just aren’t as good at that. I know I can learn how to use a library and find my favourite kinds of books (I got quite good at it when I lived across the road from one 15 years ago), but it takes more effort than I can be bothered with these days.

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