Books I Haven’t Read

Some of the books I am ashamed to say I haven't read yet, but that are at the top of my reading list

I’m embarrassed to say that there is a growing list of books that I am pretty sure I would love but have never got around to reading.  I choose to see this as an opportunity, and leave this list here as a reminder of all the amazing holiday reading I am going to get done next time I go traveling.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Downbelow Station by CJ Cherryh
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

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If You Liked Extinctions by Josephine Wilson…

If you enjoyed reading Extinctions by Josephine Wilson...
I read Extinctions by Josephine Wilson over the weekend. It’s the latest winner of Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin, and certainly meets the award’s criteria of being distinctly Australian – presenting Australian life in any of it’s phases.   Extinctions portrays a few days in the life of Fred Lothian, a retired academic who has recently lost his wife and has a difficult relationship with his two children.  While living in a retirement village unit so cramped with vestiges of his former life that he can barely move, a few incidents compel Fred to remember certain moments from his own life, and a series of vignettes slowly reveal the somewhat tragic and complicated details of Fred’s relationships with his family.

I really enjoyed this novel and couldn’t put it down, partly due to the fact that I longed for some self awareness from our patriarchal protagonist.  When self-awareness starts to come to Fred’s unreliable narration, however, it’s incredibly confronting and heartbreaking.  Josephine Wilson has done an excellent job of portraying the way the human mind works when it pushes something away that ultimately must be addressed.

This is a novel about growing older, and the years between one significant stage of your life ending and the limbo you dwell in as you wait for dependency and advanced age to set in.  But it is also a novel about memory, grief and loss, and about personal and cultural identity.  I have intentionally not said much here about what is actually revealed as the novel progresses, because I think Wilson has done a masterful job of slowly sharing the details of Fred and his daughter Caroline’s story.  The theme of extinction and being the last of your kind is very lightly woven through this novel in a way that I think makes it as relevant to our living now in the Anthropocene age, and while the 20th century looms large in this novel, this is very much a novel for Australia’s 21st century.  As the Miles Franklin judges said, this is a novel that is deeply compassionate, but also unapologetically intelligent.

If you enjoyed reading the 2017 Miles Franklin Winner, Extinctions, you may like some of the following reads for their unreliable narrators and focus on the often complicated but deeply significant stage of life that is old age.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Plumb by Maurice Gee
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Reading for Wellness

Reading for Wellness Course from the University of Warwick

Next month I am starting an online course from the University of Warwick through Future Learn called Literature and Depression: Reading for Wellbeing.

This is a subject I have always been interested in, and while I don’t suffer greatly from depression, having an autoimmune disease that often makes me extremely fatigued means that reading  is a great solace to me, because it gives me the ability to rest my body while I engage my mind (podcasts are also great!).

Even more importantly, reading the right book or poem at the right time can offer  a great sense of wonder, which is definitely what makes me enjoy living and helps me make the most of every day.  I should preface the phrase ‘right book at the right time’ by saying that I mean the right book at the right time for me.  Everyone’s reading needs and desires are different, and my perfect leisure reading or reading for solace will not be the same as someone else’s.  We all have different reading paths.

I am excited to learn more about reading that may offer comfort, however, and I am looking forward to learning about some famous readers and what peace they found.  I hope that this course will help me expand my bibliotherapy offering in future and it will definitely help me with Readers Advisory at the library.

A Perfect Weekend at the Mudgee Readers Festival

Mudgee Library

Hotel Review - Perfect Boutique Stay at the Mudgee Homestead Guest House

Mudgee Readers Festival 2017

I was lucky enough to be invited to be an expert reader at the Mudgee Readers Festival in August.  It was a gorgeously mild weekend for winter, and I had a great time running some readers advisory training for Midwestern-Regional Council staff at Mudgee Library, doing one-on-one Bibliotherapy Sessions with readers (where we workshopped for each reader what they might like to read next), and facilitating a panel discussion about Better Living Through Books.

Mudgee is one of my favourite towns in Australia, and I can’t deny the fact that I spent pretty much the entire festival coming up with schemes for how I could move there.  It was great to meet some of the Mudgee locals at the opening night festivities, during the Bibliotherapy Sessions on Saturday and at Rant, a fantastic storytelling event held at the Mudgee Brewing Company on Saturday night.

There was also time to squeeze in some tastings at several of Mudgee’s vineyards, and a gorgeous dinner at Pipeclay Pumphouse on Friday night.  As always, when we go to Mudgee, we stayed with Sean and Karen at the Mudgee Homestead Guesthouse.

I can’t wait to head back to Mudgee for the festival next year!

Celebrating Jane Austen: Reboots and Reimaginings

What to read if you love Jane Austen

This month is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and her novels are as much loved and relevant today as they were in her own time.  Her acute understanding of human nature, her wry observations and her ability to create complex three dimensional characters leave her stories feeling so modern in many ways.  Or if not modern, then enduring… timeless.

Perhaps this is why her books still matter.  Despite the fact that many women today have more agency than they would have had in Regency England, many readers still relate to the dilemmas and conflicts that Austen’s characters face, the internal and external tensions in our lives as we seek the path that is right for each of us.

I’m not a Janeite, myself…  not yet… but my love for Jane Austen and her world is growing, and I especially like some of the modern twists on her writing.  Here are several novels that are Jane Austen adjacent, a contemporary adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a biographical film, and a fantasy film and television show for the Janeite in all of us.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Two researchers from the future travel back in time to 1815, two years before Jane Austen’s untimely death, to befriend the novelist and steal her letters and an unpublished manuscript. Presenting themselves as distant relatives from colonial Jamaica, the time travellers must settle themselves into Regency society and convincingly pass themselves off a brother and sister from that time.  I loved this novel for its insight into a historical period I knew little about, and the many facts that I gleaned about the Austen family and Jane Austen’s life.  While the character depiction of Jane is fictional, it’s a charming way to widen the net cast by her novels and imagine her as a character in her own story.

Longbourn by Jo Baker
An engrossing recentred telling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants point of view.  This novel begins on washing day, when a maid at the Bennett house, Sarah, bemoans the fact that Lizzie Bennet likes to go for muddy walks in the fields – as Sarah is left scrubbing her petticoats. All the action from Pride and Prejudice is still there in this novel, but is off to the side, while Sarah’s life and the interest caused by the arrival of a new footman takes centre stage.  A gorgeous love story set in familiar territory, but seen with new eyes.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
A thoroughly modern take on Pride and Prejudice, set in contemporary America.  Jane is a 40-year old yoga teacher, Lizzie is a journalist, Kitty and Lydia are obsessed with paleo diets and crossfit, Mary is undertaking her third Masters degree online, and Mrs Bennett has a shopping addiction.  Jane and Bingley met on a Bachelor style reality TV show, the ball at Netherfield is replaced by a particularly crass game of charades, and Lizzie and Darcy keep running into each other while out jogging.  Not one for the purists, but I loved this modern take on a classic (and the plural ways we can find love and happiness that it offers)

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What to Read After Watching Dunkirk

If you Enjoyed Watching Dunkirk, Try Reading...

I have never been very interested in the military side of World War II, but a few novels read recently have captured my imagination with their detailed depiction of the evacuation of British Forces at Dunkirk during the Battle of France.

Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk just premiered in cinemas, and is likely to be one of the biggest films of the year.  Nolan has stated that Dunkirk is not a war film, but is ‘a survival story and first and foremost a suspense film.’  If you find you enjoyed the film and your interest in this era in history has been piqued, here are some suggestions for novels to read if you want to learn more about the Dunkirk evacuation and the experiences of Allied civilians and soldiers during World War II.

Their Finest by Lissa Evans
A wonderful (if more light hearted) counterpart to Nolan’s Dunkirk, as this novel is about a British propaganda film made about the Dunkirk evacuation.  It felt particularly meta and intertextual reading the farce of this filming recently, as promotion geared up for the release of Dunkirk.  A film adaptation of Their Finest was also released in 2017.

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis
In Connie Willis’ novels about time-travelling historians trapped in WWII England, the details of the evacuation at Dunkirk are crucial to the time travellers own evacuation back to the 21st century. The second novel All Clear also has some really fascinating detail about Operation Fortitude and other counterintelligence measures taken by the Allies.

Atonement by Ian McEwan
The hellish experience of being far from home during wartime is captured well in McEwan’s WWII novel, which features Robbie, conscripted into the army to avoid a prison sentence, at Dunkirk – awaiting the evacuation. Robbie’s experiences in Northern France are vividly depicted in the novel, and the evacuation is featured quite prominently in the 2007 film adaptation by Joe Wright.

The Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot
When a woman unexpected inherits a yacht, she discovers that the boat hides secrets that could shed light on Hitlers darkest schemes. This novel really brings to life the experiences of the soldiers evacuated at Dunkirk.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
This novel doesn’t feature Dunkirk, but it is one of my favourite WWII novels – focusing on some of the counterintelligence that went with the Allied forces cracking the Enigma Code.  This is a big sprawling novel that I think is one of the best post-modern historical novels about WWII out there (a good one to read if you liked Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon or The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan).

If you enjoyed watching Christopher Nolan's film Dunkirk, try reading some of the follow novels set during WWII that feature the evacuation of Allied Forces during the Battle of France

If You Liked The Handmaid’s Tale…

If You Liked the Handmaids Tale.. try reading...

If you enjoyed Season 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale, you may be interested in trying some of the following novels, tv series and films – many of which raise (still) relevant questions about personal agency, fertility and reproduction, and society (especially when it takes a dystopian turn).

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Children of Men by P. D. James
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
He, She and It by Marge Piercy
Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
The Gate to Women’s Country by Sherri S. Tepper
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Humans created by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley
Orphan Black created by John Fawcett and Graham Manson
Top of the Lake created by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee
Never Let Me Go directed by Mark Romanek
Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Novels to try reading if you liked The Handmaids Tale