Brona’s AusReading Month 2020

November 2020, which is to say now, is Brona of BronasBooks eighth annual AusReading Month. Hopefully it will also be remembered as the month the USA stepped back from the brink of Fascism and, more cheerfully, it marks 20 years of international cooperation in space with the continuous occupation over that time of the Space Station. (And don’t you think Brona’s map is ‘brave’. Taswegians are vowing vengeance as I write.)

Celebration: What Australian books have I read over the past year? After filling last year’s bingo card. I started the new AusReading year with Banjo Patterson’s An Outback Marriage – “It was as if he gathered up all his knowledge of bush life and carpentered it up into a longer tale than those in his bush verses… The novel is cynical and shallow.” Miles Franklin didn’t like it! Despite the fact that she had been asked for advice during the writing.

During 2019 I featured the work of David Ireland and in December I read his The Flesheaters. Then it was time for wrapping up (Best Reads 2019) and on to Australian Women Writers Gen 3, with one extremely important Australian work in between, Chris Owen’s Every Mother’s Son is Guilty on Aboriginal massacres by police and settlers in northern WA.

The AWW Gen 3 Week summary, with all your contributions, is here. I personally read Exiles at Home, Drusilla Modjeska; and No Roads Go By, Myrtle Rose White. Then back to undirected, all over the place general reading. First, Melbourne arts student Jamie Marina Lau’s Pink Mountain on Locust Island which I greatly enjoyed; my own notes on Daisy Bates, followed by her The Passing of the Aborigines; another Gen 3, Jungfrau by Dymphna Cusack; then right back to Gen 1 with Sisters by Ada Cambridge.

It’s April, Covid-19 has struck, I’m in a motel outside Darwin in quarantine getting lots of reading done, and even a little exercise. I read Virginia Woolf, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, three Willa Cathers and finally Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip. I think I’ve moved on to my daughter’s apartment in Darwin when I read the predictably disappointing Bring the Monkey by Miles Franklin, because my next review is of The Black Line which she and I watched together.

I’d forgotten that David Ireland slipped over into 2020 with John ‘Fourtriplezed’ providing a guest review of Bloodfather. Back home, a brief respite from Covid, the 1987 short story collection, The Babe is Wise, then Second Wave in Melbourne and I am back in isolation, seemingly forever, but working, constantly driving backwards, forwards, Melbourne, Perth, though still doing some reading. Marjorie Barnard’s biography of Miles Franklin; Patrick White’s novella collection, The Cockatoos; a bit of recent history, The Hand that Signed the Paper, Helen Demidenko; Choc.Lit for ANZLL’s Indigenous Literature Week, Not Meeting Mr Right, Anita Heiss, and also her compilation, Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia; two for ANZLL’s Thea Astley Week, Drylands and Collected Stories; a Karenlee Thompson short story, Grace; a bit about Christos Tsiolkas before Melanie (GrabTheLapels) and I buddy read The Slap; a Macedonian novel featuring Miles Franklin (that must count as Australian); Jessica White’s A Curious Intimacy; my son Lou’s review of Thea Astley’s A Kindness Cup; Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers; a YA, Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca; and that’s it.

Anticipation: This will be brief. I’m currently reading and will review later this month Melina Marchetta’s not-YA novel The Place on Dalhousie. After that I have hundreds of unread Australians in my TBR including The Cardboard Crown from which I keep getting distracted, but near the top of the list, friends have recently given/loaned me Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe; Bill Green, Small Town Rising; Mudrooroo, Tripping with Jenny; Jean Devanny, Sugar Heaven; Elizabeth Jolley, The Orchard Thieves, An Accommodating Spouse, Lovesong and the memoir, Central Mischief. I also have two Miles Franklin’s to dig up, The Net of Circumstance and Pioneers on Parade as well as all her unpublished/uncollected short works and journalism. If the plague is ever behind us I might shout myself a trip to Sydney and the Mitchell Library.

Promotion: There are two items under this heading. First of course is Australian Women Writers Gen 3, Part II Week on this blog 17-23 Jan, 2021, which is back a little compared with last year but I suspect I’ll be working right up to Christmas so that gives me a few days extra to prepare.

As I wrote last year, Gen 3, 1919-1960, which covers the period from the end of WWI to the beginning of the sixties, is the story of White Australians clustered in a few cities on the arable fringes of a hostile continent. I said there were two main strands to Gen 3, ‘Social Realism’ and ‘Modernism’, but there was a third, ‘Pioneering’ which followed on the Bush Realism of Gen 2 and which emphasised the role of families in the Bush, and therefore of women, as a reaction to the misogyny of the Bulletin’s Lone Hand myth (AKA the Australian Legend).

At the edges of any movement and in this case between Gen 3 and Gen 4 there are always writers on the cusp. I haven’t given enough thought to Gen 4 yet, and you guys might help, but it is in essence those writers we baby boomers began to read as we reached adulthood, corresponding to the revolution in popular music represented by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, musicians born 10 or so years before us, and to Women’s Lib, the pill, de facto marriages, cheap universal tertiary education, the anti-War movement. So, Thea Astley, first novel 1958; Elizabeth Harrower, first novel 1957; and so on through to Helen Garner, first novel 1977. The theoretical background should be post-modernism though I’d be surprised if that was influential in Australia before the 1970s.

I plan to read Kylie Tennant’s Tell Morning This which, speaking of cusps, was published in 1967. But I hope also to get to The Great Australian Loneliness (1937) by Ernestine Hill which I think is central to how Australians saw themselves ‘back then’. Look on the AWW Gen 3 page for authors and the reviews I’ve so far collected.

My second ‘promotion’ is I plan a deep reading of Joseph Furphy’s great work Such is Life, following in the footsteps of Brona (Moby Dick) and Lisa Hill (Finnegan’s Wake), with posts, probably monthly, throughout the year.

I have a 1999 edition annotated by FD Glass, R Eaden, L Hoffman & GW Turner, though unfortunately IMO the annotations take the form of end notes. I’m not sure yet how I’ll break the 7 chapters, 297 pp into 12 sections but I hope that by the end you, and more especially I, have a better understanding of this wonderful, idiosyncratic work.

That’s another year in summary for me. I don’t think I can manage a Bingo card. Thank you Brona, and good luck. From the chatter around it sounds like you already have lots of participants.

BronasBooks: AusReading Month 2020 (register here)

37 thoughts on “Brona’s AusReading Month 2020

  1. Wow! This post blows me away. I mean, I understand that you have Australian writing much more accessible than I do, but I love seeing how much you’ve read, what you have on your shelf, and what you plan to read next to honor Australian authors. I love learning about all these books and trying to find them here in the States. I can’t always do that, but I love trying. 🙂

    I feel like so many of the non-US blogs I follow still read a TON of American literature. Why is that?

    It sounds like you won’t be actively participating the way Brona might intend, but I’m glad to see this post regardless.


    • Thank you Jackie. I’m glad we inspire you to read Australian. Our best books are very good. And I guess that ebooks and audiobooks make them more accessible, if Amazon/Audible have the international licences which doesn’t always seem to be the case.
      The reason we read so much US Lit is because a) there is so much of it; and b) what we call ‘cultural cringe’ – the belief that if it comes from London or New York then it must be better.
      I’m writing one review for Brona right now (If I don’t get called in to work) and hopefully I’ll do one more.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, that’s one reason and I enjoy contributing to discussions about Aus.Lit.
        Book bloggers don’t discuss much Lit theory it seems to me (which is why I often appreciate your ‘professor’ perspective), so I take advantage of the opportunities when they come up.
        But I enjoy contributing to other weeks too, or months, like MARM for example, which I’d better get finished tonight (Sunday) before I go back to work.


      • Ew. Cultural cringe as a descriptor makes me cringe just with its existance. Yuck. I get it — It’s a shocking way the global superpowers of their day are still influencing the world around them.

        I hope my daughter grows up in a world were she has easier access to diversely written literature than I seem to!


      • Well Jackie, you’re the mum, so you are her first influence. Think about, and of course you already are, what classics you might introduce her to (starting with Gumnuts maybe. Joking!) but thinking also about the implied/overt racism in many older books. Watch Childrens Lit bloggers for non-US, European, African, South American childrens books. Follow the Australian Women Writers Challenge on Facebook for Australian reviews including childrens books.

        But above all, marshall your arguments, be ready to discuss with your daughter why so much of what she will read and see contains ideas that you don’t agree with – over-concentration on looks, size, colour; woman’s place is in the home; guns!; money!

        Good luck! There isn’t anything better than kids.


  2. This has just reinforced for me how dire my knowledge of Australian fiction is. If it wasn’t for you, Lisa, Sue and Brona it would be even worse. The price of the books over here in UK is prohibitive often, but thats just a feeble excuse. I could do much better 🙂


    • I’m sorry if we’re making you poor! It’s to make up for all the years Australian books were published in the UK and only a derisory royalty was paid for sales in Australia. At least the others, not me so much, pick out all the best new releases for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is what Jill Roe writes: [MF’s] records indicate that the book [My Brilliant Career] sold 1399 copies in 1901, 1012 of them the cheaper colonial edition, which received lesser royalties, and a similar number in 1902 …
        By December 1904 the author had received a total of 27.8.10 in royalties.


  3. I remember so many of these reviews you mention. I have Hearing Maud on my list for reading next month, and I’m pretty excited. I also purchased a book called Unconventional Means: The Dream Down Under by Annie Richardson Williams, who is not Australian, but read Australian lit as a teen and then flew over because she felt such a connection with the books. The memoir is written in conjunction with an Aboriginal woman.


  4. I’ve been looking through my books and decided to read Hearing Maud and Unconventional Means in November. I know it’s not quite what Brona is doing, but I want to be involved a smidge!


    • I’m sure Brona (and Jess!) will be happy that you’re taking part. Unless I get my finger out, you’ll be two books ahead of my participation In Margaret Atwood Month. I’ll be interested in how your own experience of deafness corresponds with Jess’s, but also in what you make of a US writer telling an Indigenous Australian story – it sounds very 1950s so I hope I’m wrong.


      • I’ve read 6 Atwood novels in the past. The only one that was a big miss for me was Cat’s Eye. I’m excited that the readalong lined up with books I wanted to read soon anyway. It’s always fun to have a buddy.


      • I have some credits on Audible, I might spend one on Atwood. I already owna heap of books I haven’t listened to because I can’t get the Audible app to play through the truck radio. I’d better go and get some headphones.
        Let me know if you want to buddy read the Hurston.


  5. A great post, what a variety and depth and range you cover here. I am reading just the one novel for Brona’s Month and I fear I haven’t read anything else Australian all year, which is terrible of me!


    • Thank you Liz. I’ve reviewed one for the month, which I’ll put up next week. And I’ve started a second, sort of, it’s Angela Thirkell’s one Australian novel. Your terribleness is about the same as mine in relation to England. Once AWW Gen 3 Week is out of the way, I hereby undertake to include at least one Virago in my holiday reading, The Little Ottleys I guess, though I also have Thirkell’s August Folly.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am not amused by the Australian map. Ahem, cough! I can’t concentrate on any reading at the moment except blog posts. Have been glued to CNN for days now. I have no fingernails left. My eyes are red. I am happy. May 2021 come soon with an effective vaccination, new books, a calmer mind, happiness in the White House and time to concentrate on Aussie news for a change. Trump is going to look very attractive in his new orange jumpsuit. I will try to read some Australian books but will probably be in 2021. Our kitchen is to be gutted in about 10 days. What next!!


    • Like you I have been glued to the computer- NYT which gives a glacial coverage, and Palmer Report who late last night were sure Pen. would go Biden at 4am US time but no they had to wait till 9.30. So when I started again this morning at 4 am my time Biden was ahead in Pen. Arizona, Georgia and Nevada and still NYT was stuck on 253 electoral college votes.
      Anyway, you knew all that but it’s been exciting. I’m hanging out now for those two senate runoffs to go the right way and 50:50! Kamala rules!
      I’m actually torn about Trump’s orange jump suit, which is almost certain given the state of play in NY state. Republicans will spend the next decade on spurious cases to achieve a reciprocal conviction. Still, I hope the feds bring on an emoluments case.
      Good luck with the kitchen


    • So sorry! Something had to give in the interests of making a square badge! But I kept the name in 🙂

      Hopefully you are feeling somewhat brighter and chirpier today. The news out of Pennsylvania is looking promising now.


  7. I was hoping the Taswegians and the good folk from Coral Bay, WA would let it slide (that they had to slide) in the interests of making a square badge. I worked hard to keep the name inside the square though 🙂

    I have promoted your Gen III week on my promotion post that went live today…& a Katharine Susannah Prichard honouring event that you might be interested in too.

    I’ve been putting my mind to if I want to do another big readalong next year or not. I’ve been doing one a year for about five years now, & I think I might need a break. Such is Life would be a good one to slow read at 400 odd pages though.

    Thanks for sharing all your Australian reads from this past year. I can see that it is helping to spread the word to our overseas friends already.


  8. … and Shark Bay and Exmouth. Now I’m with Pam. Ernestine Hill’s The Timeless Land begins in Shark Bay and Robyn Davidson’s Tracks ends there, and there are books from Tasmania too (I’m told).
    I didn’t get a promotion post. I do get BronasBooks notifications now (though without any book or subject title). Thank you. I’ll look it up.
    Yes, watch me wrestle with SIL. I’m not going to have all the supporting material that you and Lisa did.
    I think our overseas friends do a very good job of following Aust.Lit., much better than I do in reverse.


  9. You posted this while Mr Gums and I were away for a little R&R so I missed it. Impressive round-up Bill. I’m sorry that I never get to do Brona’s Reading Australia month. By the time I get to November I’m struggling to keep up with anything. I like to do a couple of Nonfiction November posts, and I’d love (but never do) to do Novellas November (or whatever it’s called.)

    Anyhow, I’d better get thinking about Gen 3. I don’t mind its being a bit later as your usual time is usually tight for me with my Xmas and New Year responsibilities. I might do a Kylie Tennant too. I’ve read Tell morning this. I only remember the general story, but I did like its depiction of Sydney at that time. However I won’t commit until I look properly at my TBR pile!


    • I hoped you’d get to it (someone else hasn’t but I’ll sneak in a reminder somewhere). I’m sure you’ll come up with something. I’m getting pressure to be in Perth for family xmas dinner which means getting this trip and two more in before 11 Dec (for 14 days quarantine). It will be tight, not to mention non-stop for the next four weeks. I might spend xmas day on my own writing lonely Gen 3 reviews!


  10. Three Cathers? That’s practically a binge! I’ve been thinking about revisiting Hermione Lee’s biography of her. I did read it, years ago when I read my first of her books (Song of the Lark) and before I developed my fear of reading about novels/stories in biographies (because they nearly always reveal the conclusions/resolutions of the works). But maybe I will try to read a couple more Cathers before I do (that would involve the one about Quebec and the one that won the Pulitzer and the first of the trilogy which I mistakenly left unread). I do still have Prichard’s trilogy on my stack for this year, but I am preoccupied by Margaret Atwood reading for the time being. Like you, having been glued to political developments in the U.S. has been a consistent distraction; I’m still reading, just not as frequently or devotedly.


    • Liz Dexter was having a Cather read-along and I was in quarantine for 14 days so it was an ideal opportunity to read the whole “trilogy”. Not having heard of her before, I was totally captivated. She is the closest American author I have read to the archetypal Australian Independent Woman (when I’m dead some young thing will take up the Independent Woman and she will at last be famous). Now I will have to locate the ‘Quebec’ one. (Have you trawled my back catalogue and found the punishing review I did of Leonard Cohen? – A non-sequitur no doubt induced by post-work alcohol).


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