You Make Me (do it)

Journal: 072

You make me read/listen to books I might not otherwise have considered or even heard of. Cats Eye for MARM, Aboriginal short stories (Born into This), Liz Dexter’s favourite author who, sadly, turned out not to be mine. This of course is a good thing. I wonder what I would be reading had I not been introduced to blogging. More SciFi? More TV? As an aside, Milly says blogging has been the making of me – a bit late, I was in my sixties when I started. I can’t get her to say more than that. There is no doubt that writing about and discussing books has reconnected me to my academic side, but I think she means that for the first time in my life I am actually connecting with other people.

Most of the side streets I venture down are of my own choosing, pre-Jane Austen English Lit for instance. Others are a consequence of beginning projects – most notably the AWW Gens – whose internal logic carries me in unexpected directions. And some, and maybe even the most interesting, are from your enthusiasms rubbing off on me.

Brona/This Reading Life has designated August as Poetry Month, following up an initiative by Red Room Poetry whose anthology, Guwayu – For All Times, I reviewed recently. I had thought that might do it for me but looking round my shelves I see I have far more (Australian) poetry than I expected, mostly because of my father, from Kendall, through Paterson and Lawson to CJ Dennis, some older Australian anthologies, and of course, his own compilation of WWI poetry, Quiet Flows the Somme Dark Somme Flowing (write in haste, repent at leisure!), and on to my own interests in Alan Wearne and recent Indigenous collections.

This has set me off on a Poetry Month post of my own which I have 27 days to complete. That makes four posts I have on the go – ok, in contemplation – right now, plus my quarterly accounts, which all I hope to get done, having just got home from Melbourne, and back into Iso, before anyone offers me any more work.

For the remainder of this post I want to review/briefly mention books I have listened to, via Audible and Borrowbox, following recommendations from you, my fellows. I said above that left to myself I would probably be reading more SF, and as it happens, Melanie/GTL in particular has been pointing me recently towards US women’s non-violent SF.

First up was The Snow Queen (1980) which you might have thought I had heard of before, but I hadn’t (Son, Lou will probably tell me we read it back in Melbourne in the 1990s. But if we did it didn’t make an impression). I bought it on Audible when Melanie first made the suggestion but didn’t listen to it until last month. I thought it good average SF but I appreciate the different perspective, and better characterization, that women writers bring to SF. To summarize very briefly, The Summer Queen and the Winter Queen each rule for 150 years. The book follows Moon, a young Summer woman who turns out to be a clone of the Winter Queen. Will she become the Summer Queen? There are of course lots of interesting twists and turns (see Wiki).

More interesting, and also recommended by Melanie, is Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series which commences with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014). My feeling is that it is more interesting because it is more modern, but can I explain that? The Snow Queen is your standard adventure epic, though with no or very little shooting, which I appreciate. Chambers’ books are more character studies which happen to have inter-planetary settings.

We follow the multi-species crew of a typical “owner-driver” space craft (there’s a word for this in shipping, but I can’t bring it to the surface). One of the most interesting situations is that the AI, the mind to use Iain M Banks’ term, Lovey, which runs the ship is in love with the ship’s engineer, and he with her. They decide that the next step is to find Lovey a body.

This leads us to the next book in the series, A Closed and Common Orbit (2016) which I feel like I am going to have to listen to again because the summaries I’m reading don’t gel with what little I remember. There are two stories running in parallel. Pepper, who lives in a community in the interior of a planet, has the care of an android which contains the mind of a ship’s AI, not Lovey’s because that transfer failed, but with some of Lovey’s memories. And a girl, Jennifer 23, is one of a roomful of Jennifers all aged 10, working in a factory salvaging parts from scrapped spaceships. She escapes to the ‘outside’ and is cared for for years by a the AI of a stranded spaceship. We slowly become aware that Pepper is Jennifer 23, grown up and escaped to another planet.

As you are no doubt aware Liz Dexter/Adventures in Reading, Running etc. has this year been making her way through the works of Anne Tyler. I never seem to be able to borrow a book at the same time as she is reading it, but I do have one in mind, for September I think. Meanwhile I listened to Morgan’s Passing (1980) which Liz reviewed awhile ago. The eponymous Morgan is a fantasist who lives off his wife’s emotional and her family’s financial support. He begins stalking a couple, whom he met by pretending to be a doctor and actually delivering their child, and slowly worms his way into their lives. The young woman of the couple, Emily, is a maths major when we meet her and I expected a lot of her, but she wastes her life/fails to assert her independence, first with her ‘actor’ husband and then, inexplicably, with Morgan. Tyler writes good characters and puts them into interesting situations, but I found Morgan barely believable and totally unlikeable. Only Bonnie, Morgan’s wife, with her self-awareness and common sense, redeems this book.

I like photographing my truck at sunrise, as you may have noticed. I get plenty of opportunities starting work at 5.00 am! The pic below was taken at Nullarbor Station last trip (no Bingo sorry Melanie). It might be my last trip that way for a while, if things turn out. I’ve had one year of isolation and I don’t think I can face a second. I have a tentative offer of work up north which I hope will keep me in WA for a while. But the best laid schemes etc…

I see in compiling the lists below, Regeneration and Station Eleven, both of which you recommended. Sorry, you know, space, time. I of course have reservations about Regeneration, but I enjoyed reading them both.

Recent audiobooks 

Mike Bockoven (M, USA), Pack (2018) – Fantasy
Lee Child (M, Eng), Blue Moon (2019) – Crime
Joan Vinge (F, USA), The Snow Queen (1980) – SF
Ellen Alpsten (F, Eng), Tsarina (2020) – Hist.Fic
Jim Lehrer (M, USA), Top Down (2013) – Hist.Fic
Elizabeth Woodcraft (F, Eng), The Saturday Girls (2018) – Coming of Age
Archie Roach (M, Aus/Vic), Tell Me Why (2019) – Memoir
Pat Barker (F, Eng), Regeneration (1991) – Hist.Fic
Anne Tyler (F, USA), Morgan’s Passing (1980)
Emily St John Mandel (F, Can), Station Eleven (2014) – SF (post-apocalyptic)
Becky Chambers (F, USA), A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014) – SF
Becky Chambers (F, USA), A Closed and Common Orbit (2016) – SF
Isabelle Allende (F, USA), In the Midst of Winter (2017)
Nikki Gemmell (F, Aus/NSW), The Ripping Tree (2021) – Hist.Fic
Kerry Greenwood (F, Aus/Vic), Murder and Mendelssohn (2013) – Hist.Fic/Crime
Andrea Camilleri (M, Ita), The Age of Doubt (2008) – Crime
Margaret Atwood (F, Can), Angel Catbird (2017) – SF

Currently reading

Carmel Bird (F, Aus/Tas), The Bluebird Cafe
Bruce Pascoe (M, Aus/Vic), Dark Emu
Jacqueline Kent (F, Aus/Vic), Vida
Adam Thompson (M, Aus/Tas), Born in to This
George Sand (F, Fra), Laura: A Journey into the Crystal
Norman Lindsay (M, Aus/NSW), Age of Consent
Jeanine Leane ed. (F, Aus/NSW), Guwayu – For All Times

41 thoughts on “You Make Me (do it)

  1. I’m not fond of SF, so you won’t get many recommendations from me in that genre. I do enjoy Max Barry’s books and I highly recommend Zoo City by Lauren Beukes.

    Nice truck!
    This virus is relentless. It’s getting difficult to remain positive and bear the restrictions. I hope your work plan works out.

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    • Borrowbox (the library system) has no Max Barry but Audible has five – Madison May, Lexicon, Providence, Jennifer Government, and Machine Man. I’ll buy/read whichever one you choose (I think you have recommended Jennifer Government previously) otherwise I’ll probably buy the longest – I like to get the maximum bang for my buck.

      It’s an excellent truck and has now taken me backwards and forwards across the Nullarbor without a hitch for three plus years.

      The virus is relentless. Which reminds me that I thought there was a defect in Station Eleven and that is the virus was immediate and deadly. A successful virus actually keeps its hosts alive at least long enough to propagate.

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      • Start with Jennifer Government. I have the feeling you’ll like it. Too bad there isn’t Company as well on the list.

        Guy (from His Futile Preoccupations) has reviewed all of Max Barry’s books, including Madison May, the last one.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. My horizons have widened since blogging too, specifically my adventures with Indigenous Lit though I probably would have read that anyway now that it’s mainstream, just not as much. And also translated fiction from around the world thanks to Stu from Winston’s Dad, and books from the African continent thanks to Kinna Reads and her challenge (which sadly, seems to have lapsed).
    I’ve probably also read more more AWW because of you, not actually my favourite kind of reading but I have discovered a couple of gems so I can’t complain.
    But alas, I don’t see any sign that I’ve influenced you at all…

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    • You at least consistently read new releases. I hope I would have discovered Indigenous Lit but it’s hard to see how without someone to point me that way (Sue and that Deadman Dance initially). For example, I had already read Wright’s Carpentaria without understanding it – having no context.

      I’ll happily take the credit for early AWW, especially Spence’s Mr Hogarth’s Will which I remember you enjoying.

      One area where you have profoundly influenced me (and I’m sure there are more) is Stead. Your Christina Stead Week got me reading some absolutely great works which I probably would have ignored otherwise, and particularly Lettie Fox.

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      • I don’t think I’ve confessed yet to abandoning my plans for Eleanor Dark Week 2021. So many things are just too hard at the moment, and (as you know) running these ‘weeks’ is very demanding.
        For the time being I’m just reading ad hoc and trying not to feel pressured about things.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Lisa, I don’t blame you. Isolation and lockdown are difficult to deal with for short periods let alone semi-permanently as increasingly looks likely. These are worrying times and Eleanor Dark will still be there to be read, in a year or in a decade.

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  3. Ah, Snow Queen. A book I enjoyed, but didn’t read completely. This lack was not intentional, but because the book (paperback) was misbound, and missing a chunk of about 40 pages two-thirds of the way through. I could never be bothered to reread a different instance to find out what happened in the missing chunk. And I’ve also read and enjoyed the two Becky Chambers (without missing chunks).

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    • Years ago, when books were read on the ABC, I’d often miss sections but I seemed to follow along ok. These days, with CDs I’ll skip sections that are annoying me but it’s harder with MP3s and downloads because the sections are longer, an hour sometimes, and you can potentially miss so much. I see Vinge followed up Snow Queen with a summer Queen novel and a novella to join them up, but unless I see them in the library I’ll probably not take the series any further. OTH I’ll probably spend an Audible credit on the next Wayfarers quite soon.

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  4. I enjoyed The Snow Queen from a worldbuilding point of view, especially the interesting ways that Vinge showed when people were speaking other languages – but I couldn’t get over the ick factor of Moon and Sparks being first cousins/adopted brother and sister, and yet the whole book being hung around their romance. Shame as I enjoyed a lot of aspects of it.

    Blogging has really broadened what I read – back when I started, I was reading mostly crime fiction and Anglophone classics. Although I already liked science fiction, literary fiction, and history non-fiction, I rarely picked them up. Now I hear about interesting books all the time and the struggle is what to choose!

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    • Yes, that’s the big struggle. I can’t imagine reading in this lifetime all the unread books I already own, let alone all the new one’s I’m sure to acquire as well. And then there’s Melanie’s obscure Indie Americans, Jonathon’s old Europeans, hordes of Japanese and African writers I rarely even hear about, and next year I’m making a start on First Nations Americans. How do bloggers find the time to watch film as well?

      I might have to listen to The Snow Queen again to see what you mean about language. The aspect that interested me was its 1980s feel for ecology (doesn’t that age me!) with the slaughter of the mers standing in for our raping of the planet.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m honoured that my poetry exploration has influenced you Bill.

    Your impact on my reading of AWW within the various Gens has made a huge difference. I’ve learnt so much & tried new to me authors, all within such a friendly, supportive cohort.

    And I always love your truck by sunrise pics 😎

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    • I’m surprised that I review poetry at all. And yet the poetry I find or you introduce us to is always interesting, especially but not just Indigenous poetry. I don’t understand the mechanics or theory of what poets are attempting (just as I have no music theory), sadly, but I appreciate how poetry blends into ‘high’ literature.

      I set out to proselytize with the AWW Gens, especially the first, but it’s the “friendly, supportive cohort”, you included of course, who have really made the difference.

      It’s just as well, considering how often I sneak truck pix into my blog.

      Liked by 1 person

      • LOL. Keep sneaking in the truck pix! I sometimes wonder how a truckie has such a fine appreciation of literature, but perhaps I have the question the wrong way around. Perhaps I should be asking how someone with such a fine appreciation of literature ended up driving a truck!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have an appreciation of literature anyway, as do we all. Trucking is an escape – from office life, from dealing with people, from being under constant supervision, from the city.

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  6. I love these posts Bill, but they are so full that I don’t quite know where to start with commenting. I will say though that I love that Milly thinks blogging has been good for you. I love the idea that people can still change – for the better – in their 60s!

    I’m also a bit chuffed that I had some influence on your reading of First Nations Australia literature.

    In many way blogging has narrowed my reading. Before blogging I was very active in online reading groups and that kept my reading diverse. Now, largely because of accepting review copies from publishers, my reading has become too focused on current Australian writing. I’m wondering whether I should give up accepting review copies. It’s something I’m going to have to think about a bit I think. If I had more time to read I might feel differently, but I don’t so …

    I do love your AWW series because as you know I love reading older Australian women’s literature and thinking about trends. I’ll continue to take part of course but I sort of feel sad about leaving those earlier periods!

    BTW Guy (His Futile Preoccupations) did a guest post for me very early on on Max Barry. I had never heard of him! I still haven’t read him, but I did buy one of his books for Mr Gums.

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    • I haven’t heard of Barry except from Emma, but there seems to be some interest in him. I’ll write up Jennifer Government later this year.

      I’m quite happy for the direction of AWW Gen x week to be guided. I got the impression after Gen 3 Week that the consensus was to go on to Gen 4 (home territory for all the young’uns amongst us). I’ll set up a discussion if you like and we can decide – for 2023! – whether to do Gen 5, another Gen 4, Gen 0 or the kite you flew recently, AMW Gen 1.

      When I started I was envious of bloggers getting review copies – free books! – but that now seems too much like a job to me and I am happy to exercise the freedom to read where I like, within the (very fluid) bounds of what I think suits my blog. Of course it also leaves me woefully ill-informed about new releases.

      You’re a big influence WG, throughout the Oz.Lit blogosphere. You’ll just have to get used to it.

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      • It’s weird isn’t it. I think Emma, like me, heard of him via Guy.

        Are AWW. Oh yes, I think we should finish the journey. I wasn’t suggesting not, though as we get to current times it’s harder to see pictures and we’ve all read a lot? What will the week add? I’m certainly interested in AMW but also in discussing other ideas, when the time comes, as you suggest.

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  7. This post absolutely gave me the warm and fuzzies because I love how Millie sees this positive change in you as you get to know a community better. The funny thing is my mom loves the book club we do, but when she waits until the last minute to start reading for our next meeting, she gets frantic. My dad yelled at her one day, “That book business is stressin’ you out!” and that’s been our motto ever since! I want it on a t-shirt.

    I’m glad you read The Snow Queen. I read the entire series, and I felt like the characterization and plot got more exciting as things went along. It took me a while to get settled in the world in The Snow Queen, but I’m also not an avid sci-fi reader. Folks like you and Lou may have had an easier time getting into the setting. I’m glad you both read it on my recommendation! I agree with Lou that it was weird that the main lovers were related, but the book is so long I allowed myself to forget.

    I remember Pepper from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and am interested in continuing the series on audio. I’m going to have a long commute starting in a couple of weeks, so I’ll have lots of audiobook reviews coming up.

    Thanks to Aussie bloggers like yourself have led me to read SO many Australian books. I now have an “Australia” tag on my blog, and if you look it up, you see a variety of works. Thank you!

    p.s. I hope Bingo is okay

    p.p.s. Are you saying you may stop trucking for a while?

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    • There’s nowhere to hide in a book group of two if you haven’t read the book. But tell Biscuit she should comment more.

      I was pleased to get to The Snow Queen, it’s always good to have an excuse to read SF. Like you, I blocked out that the lovers were related, I mean cousins are mostly ok, though I hadn’t thought about them being adopted siblings. I’m tempted to listen to The Long Way again. It’s not as though I don’t accidentally borrow the same book twice in a year anyway (eg. the Allende I listed above) and it would give me a better handle on the connections between the first two books before I move onto the third.

      I looked. You must mention Australia in every Sunday Lowdown. I’m glad we’re helping you to spread the word about Australian writers in the US.

      It’s probable that with more grey nomads back on the road, Bingo spends more time down the back, around the camping ground which was empty for much of last year.

      No, not stopping, just staying within Western Australia (which after all is 3,000 km from north to south and nearly half that from east to west). But the client who offered me work has gone quiet now I’m available so we’ll just have to wait and see.

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      • I’ll tell Biscuit about your encouragement. Mostly, she doesn’t write because she’s worried she’ll embarrass herself because she doesn’t think she’s smart enough.

        What are “grey nomads”?

        Let’s hope the client has not succumbed to something awful and thus the silence.

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      • Looking forward to seeing more of Biscuit (and of Jackie. Year one of parenthood can be a bitch. And year two. And year 44 – looking at you Psyche).

        Grey nomads are old people who drive round Australia in their camper vans.

        Turns out the guy who offered me work went on holidays while I was over east and turned off his phone. But I went and saw his boss, who I know, and we’re back on track to start next week.

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  8. I like your assessment of Morgan’s Passing – I liked Bonnie, too!

    I love my blogs for the reach they give me outside the 6.5 miles maximum I’ve been away from home since 07 March 2020 (I thought I’d gone further last Sunday but still 6.5!). Reading work by and discussing books and running with folk around the world and nearer to me of course really makes my life better.

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    • I’m the opposite, yet the same. I drive thousands of kilometres each trip yet speak (briefly) to maybe four people. Apart from friends in my home city Perth all my connection is via blogging.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great light in that photo. Also appreciate your “without a hitch” joke in a comment above, nice one! 😉

    Bookchatting online definitely adds to my TBR, so literally changes my reading in that way. But, even more than that, the enthusiasm is infectious for me. Especially other peoples’ reading projects (like your burgeoning 2022 plan) get me hyped up and I’m sure that’s a bit incentive to constantly increasing the size of my stack.

    The Snow Queen I read years ago when I was diligently reading through feminist sci-fi classics; I liked it well enough but I didn’t feel pulled to read more. Chambers, though, I just loved. Even though Small Planet does have some first-novel-ish-ness to it, I didn’t care a speck and just wanted more of it. And the way that the second and third weeks nestle in, without serially spiralling, I loved that too. Have the novella and the new book waiting here for a moment when I need that kind of cheer.

    I was just checking the Text Classics imprint in our library system online again last week and have noticed a few additions. As usual, just reading the descriptions, I wanted to read them all. *shrugs* Nice problem to have.

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    • BIP, your enthusiasm for my 2022 plan is adding to MY TBR, though most of it will have to be audiobooks. (I picked up a Maya Angelou at the library this week, no doubt out of sequence.) But I’m buying fewer new releases off the back of reviews than I did in the past, partly because they just so often sit on the shelf unread.

      Karen/Booker Talk was recently talking about book covers. There used to be a distinctive Women’s Press SF cover which I would always pick up in second hand shops, though all my local ones (shops) are now long gone. As I, slowly, grew up I got tired of boy SF (all that pew pew shooting) and women’s SF was often both experimental and character based. I haven’t bought the third Wayfarers yet, but I will soon.

      I wish I was in charge of Text for a year. I’d publish the complete Eve Langley, a boxed Brent of Bin Bin set (and write the Introduction), and a book of Miles Franklin’s still unpublished short fiction and long journalism. Then there’s the complete Ada Cambridge … The list goes on and on.

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      • Liz and Ali are doing a read through of all the Maya Angelou autobiographies (they’re on Christmas now); my far-and-away favourite remains I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but her life experience is fascinating and her approach to single-parenting and work/career is very interesting throughout. Plus, I love her voice, if you are able to find anything on audio.

        Is that the cover with the little black angled lines around the outer edges of the books? I used to collect those too! Didn’t matter what/who…loved to find them. Mr BIP talks about pew-pew too and he used to read a lot of the traditional sci-fi but has shifted to reading mostly women writers in that “genre” (with some exceptions, like Robert Cargill recently). The third Wayfarers is more like the first one, you’re in for a treat. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the second!)

        Ah, yes, I can see where you would have a few suggestions for their imprint (I’d be more analytical for a collection of CanLit writers too). Have you ever approached them about writing some introductions? They might be looking for contributors, you never know!

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      • The Angelou I have out is an audiobook. I still can’t tell you which one.
        Yes, black & white diagonal stripes, from England in the 1980s I think. I’ve reviewed a couple here – authors Jane Palmer and Rosaleen Love.
        I’m not sure I have room for another SF author, I might just comfort read my old Ian M Banks and early William Gibson.
        I won’t approach them. The Brent of Bin Bin books are just curiosities now, and Franklin insisted on having published one book which doesn’t belong – Prelude to Waking – but the other five could be marketed as a rollicking old-fashioned family saga. The real tragedy is that Eve Langley’s life work, which might easily rank with In Search of Lost Time, is not even available on-line.

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  10. That’s a later one in the Angelou sequence, maybe even the last. It’s very short and I’m not sure how rewarding it will feel without context from the earlier volumes. But if she’s reading it, the cadence of her voice will still hold its charm. There’s a copy of The Pea Pickers in Toronto’s reference library, but it does seem she’s hard to find. Poised for rediscovery by the sounds of her though.

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