My 85 yo mum is finally moving from the family home to a retirement village a couple of suburbs away in eastern suburbs Melbourne, so I spent last week over there helping her to come to grips with moving – it’s her 12th or 13th move but the first one without dad – and packing up dad’s books. I now have a (physical) TBR which I will never finish, an astonishing number of books about Australia in WWI, a lot of books in average condition which my grandfathers had been given in their schooldays, and a small number of books dating back to the C18th.
Other online friends have been doing it hard in similar situations recently, but my father had a ‘welcome’ death a couple of years ago after being almost completely paralyzed by a stroke 18 months earlier, following 25 years of active retirement on a good income and surrounded by grandchildren. He was very protective of his books and this was the first time I had set hands on all but a few of them. I will probably post more when the boxes arrive here and I start opening them, but for instance I am now the proud owner of a very early (1930s) Mickey Mouse which he had as a child and which I had never seen before. And in case you’re worrying on her behalf, mum has three other sons nearer-by to help on moving day and, to the extent their wives allow, to rescue other family treasures which might else be lost through this necessary downsizing.
Being in Melbourne meant I also got to catch up with Michelle from Adventures in Biography whose (first) book is nearly done, and with Lisa (ANZLL) and spouse, for the first time, for a pleasant lunch and to exchange books. We may have set each other a challenge as she is expecting me to find the good in David Ireland’s recent The World Repair Video Game and I have presented her with Joseph Furphy’s Rigby’s Romance which was excised from the more famous Such is Life.
All this activity – and of course I had a son and plenty of friends to lunch with as well – meant that I got behind in my writing. And work didn’t help by expecting me to run up to Kalgoorlie almost as soon as my plane landed back in Perth. However, I have done the reading for my next couple of posts – a Kim Scott, and a really obscure Catherine Helen Spence I came across in Yarra Cottage Books, Warrandyte – and I thought today I would use up the ‘offcuts’ of a post which I did for Reading Matters after Kim, a London-based Australian who has been blogging forever, wrote asking me to contribute to her on-going series, Triple Choice Tuesday.
Her letter asked for a short personal history plus “three books under the following categories, and explain why you’ve chosen them”:
A favourite book
A book that changed your world
A book that deserves a wider audience.
I thought that would all be pretty easy and knocked out an answer on the evening of the day she wrote. In fact, my only problem was that I was spoiled for choice. From when I was little, I had my own bookcase, and every book had its place on the shelves. I could lie in bed and recognise each book and recall the story it told. So I had lots of favourite books, and I have continued adding to them in the fifty years since, so that they threaten to overwhelm my whole apartment, not just my bedroom.
Even now, revising this before pressing Publish, I realise I completely failed to consider another long time favourite – one which my father had as a boy also, though I didn’t know it – Kenneth Grahame’s 1895 evocation of a childhood summer, The Golden Age. Anyway, I hung on to my answers for a while and of course ended up rewriting them. Here then are two which ended up on the cutting room floor.
A favourite book: Beau Ideal by PC Wren
Beau Ideal was the first of the Beau Geste trilogy I owned, though I subsequently accumulated a whole shelf of PC Wren novels with their grey cloth covers from second-hand bookshops in the sixties and seventies. Wren’s old fashioned mix of honourable behaviour, British stiff upper lip, militarism and class consciousness obviously had something to say even to me – a draft resister and an anarchist/socialist – but what got me, what gets me every time, is that Beau Ideal is a love story, the story of the hopeless love of a ‘nice American boy’ for Isobel, who is pledged to John Geste, and who for Isobel’s sake must go back into the Sahara to find John who is a prisoner of the French Foreign Legion.
A book that changed my world: The Iron Heel by Jack London.
I was introduced to Fabian socialism by my librarian at Blackburn South High in fourth form (year 10) but a year or so later Nana, my father’s very prim and proper mother, gave me The Iron Heel, thinking no doubt it was another harmless adventure story like London’s White Fang. It is in fact both the first great dystopian novel and a communist analysis of the inevitable end of Capitalist democracy through the rise of the Oligarchy, the Iron Heel, overseeing the destruction of the middle classes and the splitting of the working class into a small, privileged caste of tame-cat unionists and a large underclass of impoverished under-employed (sound familiar!), and so I was converted to revolutionary socialism, which for a while during those Vietnam War years seemed not only logical but achievable.
The novel takes the form of an autobiography written by the wife of the leader of the revolutionaries, recovered and annotated centuries later when the Revolution has finally succeeded and ushered in the Brotherhood of Man. London makes a very unconvincing woman but it’s still an important novel and a “truer prophecy of the future than Brave New World” according to George Orwell.
A book that deserves a wider audience: The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley
I was always going to choose The Pea Pickers which will one day be acknowledged as one of Australia’s four or five great novels.
To see what I did write for Kim, go to Reading Matters (here).
PC Wren, Beau Ideal, John Murray, London, 1928
Jack London, The Iron Heel, Penguin Classics, 2006, first published 1908
Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers, Imprint Classics, 1991, first published 1942 (Review)
Miles Franklin, My Career Goes Bung, 1946 (Review)
Catherine Martin, An Australian Girl, 1890 (Review)