Oversize

Journal: 063

As I reported, I did one trip Perth-Melbourne in January, getting home in time to summarize another successful AWW ‘Gen’ Week. Victoria had had one case of Covid in December so it was back to iso for me, then Perth had a case too, and iso became a city-wide 5 day lockdown. The main effect as far as I was concerned was no library, no new audiobooks.

Rather than head straight back out, I waited for a road train load of hay up north but a cyclone put the kybosh on that – and now it seems the North West Coastal Hwy has been cut near Carnarvon – so I ended up accepting a load to Melbourne which turned out to be marginally overwidth. And that in turn meant I could only take one trailer (so less money coming home!).

It’s a while since I’ve done an Oversize – maybe one for Sam & Dragan a few years ago, and two or three others 20 years before that, also for Sam & Dragan. I had the right permits but had to check on nighttime travel which surprisingly turned out to be legal in all states (well anyway, I didn’t get pulled over, which is much the same thing). This morning I unloaded in Geelong (75 km SW of Melbourne) and now I sit at my usual western suburban BP truckstop waiting for Homer to come up with a load home. He asked me a couple of hours ago how much weight I could carry and the answer can’t have been satisfactory as I haven’t heard back from him [I’m loading steel, 7.30 tonight [When I rolled up it wasn’t ready so now I’m loading 9.00 AM tomorrow. That’s trucking.]].

The other half of ‘oversize’ is my bloody weight. Melanie/GTL is doing her best to educate me about fat-shaming and owning my body, and yes I’m old and sedentary, but another eight kgs over Xmas really is too much. The Age says I don’t need to walk 10,000 steps a day, that was just an advertising slogan for some device or other, but I do need to walk 7,500.

With all 3 trailers my truck is 35 m long, say 40 paces, and 3 paces wide: 100 paces total if I circulate staying 2 or 3 paces out. I walk around the truck every two hours, 7 or 8 times a day, to check the load and the tyres (and to get some of the stiffness out of my legs): 750 paces a day. To get to 7,500 I can either stop every 12 minutes or I can do 10 tours per stop. I wonder if it will make a difference.

My time home this time was just under 2 weeks. I normally review any hard copy books that I read, in fact I’m usually desperate to finish them so I have something to review. But having nothing but time on my hands in this last round of iso/lockdown I read a couple of books that I let go through to the keeper.

First up (and not finished yet) was Hoffman’s Mr Flea following Johnathon’s posting of an excerpt but still not knowing really what to expect. E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776 – 1822) was “a German Romantic author of fantasy and Gothic horror” (wiki) and one of the early fathers of science fiction, not to mention the Hoffman of Tales of Hoffman and author of the stories on which Coppélia, my favourite ballet – if I may have a favourite after not going for 40 years – is based. These are all thing I didn’t know. Johnathon, you may have inspired me to a whole Hoffman post, though not of Mr Flea, that’s your job.

That was my early morning read; researching and writing up the next episode of Such is Life (scheduled for Thurs), and a couple of posts before it, occupied my days; and that left evenings. I have an endless supply to choose from but decided on Angela Thirkell’s August Folly (1936) which I had told Liz Dexter I would read “soon”. And now I have. Thirkell of course is thoroughly English, as English as Evie Wyld for instance, and August Folly is a very gentle village romance. I thought it a bit laboured at the beginning but soon sank pleasurably into the criss-crossing web of relationships between the Tebbens with two marriagable children, the Palmers with none and the Deans with too many to count, a college Dean down from Oxford (on whom Mrs Tebben had once been keen) and a curate and the rector and his daughters and all the quaint villagers who ran the local train and the shops and supplied the servants and the farm hands. And don’t forget the snarky conversations between the donkey and the cat at the end of each day.

Recent audiobooks 

Lee Child (M, Eng), Persuader (2003) – Crime
Becky Chambers (F, USA), The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (2014) – SF
Sarah Fine (F, USA), Uncanny (2017) – YA/SF
Stuart Palmer (M, USA), Murder on the Blackboard (1932) – Crime
Caeli Wolfson Widger (F, USA), Mother of Invention (2018) – SF
Graeme Macrae Burnet (M, Sco), The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau (2014) – Crime
Alexander McCall Smith (M, Sco), The Department of Sensitive Crimes (2019) – pseudo Swedish Crime (Yes, I’m embarrassed I picked it up. DNF)
Julia Thomas (F, Eng), Penhale Wood (2017) – Crime (Detective fiction set in Truro, Wales. The female lead leaves her Australian husband and children behind in Sydney to persuade the police to investigate the death a year previously of her daughter, and the disappearance of the children’s nanny. Sorry Karen, I should have reviewed it but I had too much else on.)

Currently reading

Trent Dalton (M, Aust/Qld), Boy Swallows Universe
Elizabeth Tan (F, Aust/WA), Smart Ovens for Lonely People
Joseph Furphy (M, Aust/Vic), Such is Life
Sayaka Murata (F, Jap), Earthlings
Octavia Butler (F, USA), Parable of the Talents
Angela Thirkell (F, Eng), August Folly
ETA Hoffman (M, Ger), Mr Flea
Helen Garner (F, Aust/Vic), Cosmo Cosmolino

EOY 2020

Journal: 063

Last year I wrote “I ate very well at Ludmilla Agnes’ festivities and by the time I got to the pavlova, cheesecake and cheese platter I was struggling”. This year, I was struggling well before then and I spent most of the evening asleep in my armchair like an old fat grandpa. And three or four days later when I felt like eating again, the pavlova was all gone! If you look closely at the back of my plate, that is a really excellent beetroot (and fetta) terrine. Thankyou Milly!

I’ve seen everywhere people glad to see the back of 2020, but except for the possibility of vaccination 2021 won’t be much different I don’t think. Gladys is paddling furiously beneath the surface to keep those numbers down in NSW, but if she doesn’t mandate masks and ban large gatherings it’s going to get away from her and close the country down again. Lou was planning to spend the next fortnight in Victoria, but will he then be allowed back into the NT? I’m coming over mid-month, so it’s definitely back into iso for me, and I’ve just about had enough. With regular work and running with the extra capacity of a road train I’ve been making good money. But to what end, if for another year I can only work, or sit at home alone.

Ok, here are my reading stats (late because the paperwork for owner-driving is non-stop. Currently I’m doing my annual maintenance records audit for WA – I do a separate one for the other states). 2019 in brackets.

Books read: 164 (159)

Gender balance: Male authors 67, Female 97 (84/75)

Author from: Australia  29 (47), USA  79 (51), UK 35 (36), Europe 10 (19), Asia 5 (4), Africa 1 (0) Other 5 (2) The ‘Other’ were Canada 3, Palestine 1, Russia 1

Genre: Non-fiction 12 (14),  Literature  43 (44), General 39 (43), SF  18 (21), Crime 48 (37), Short Stories 4 (0)

Year: 2020-19 6 (n/a), 2010-18 61 (67),  2000-9 27 (25), 1960-99 36 (37),  1900-59 26 (17), pre-1900  8 (13)

That’s made up of 118 audiobooks and 46 ‘real’ books (including maybe 5 from Project Gutenberg (Willa Cather, Miles Franklin)).

I’m glad to see my gender balance has tilted female again. Scanning down the list of books I read rather than listened to, I see the male/female author balance there is 7/39.

Posts for year: 90 (85)

Made up of: Reviews 63 (60), Journals 21 (25), Other – Biogs, Excerpts, Theory 6 (n/a). Though some of the Journals were also largely Reviews. Eight reviews were supplied by guests – 6 for AWW Gen 3 Week (and I provided links to 5 others) – plus Bloodfather (Ireland), A Kindness Cup (Astley). Nine counting Melanie’s ‘Letter from America‘ on The Slap. Reviews seem to have split 13/50 male/female by author (31/29).

‘Others’ also includes posts I’ve done on Indigenous Massacres. The reading up takes a bit of time, which is why I’ve done only a couple this past year. But they generate a lot of traffic, probably as they are mentioned off and on on Indigenous Facebook sites. Chris Owen, the author of Every Mother’s Son is Guilty about policing and massacres in the Kimberley (WA) also has a Facebook page, where he will sometimes put up newspaper reports of the day.

Working through my scratchy notes, I would say I put up 20 reviews to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Theirs is a great site, I thank them, and hope they keep going for many more years (Even if I didn’t make the final General Fiction Roundup with The Place on Dalhousie).

I’m quite clear which is the worst book I read this year, Miles Franklin’s Bring the Monkey. The best is a bit harder, but let’s go with The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather. I hope 2021 brings another Benang, Swan Book or A Million Windows, and that I actually read it, rather than just hear about it.

Now, reminder time …

AWW Gen 3 Week Part II 17-23 Jan, 2021

Part II because we are going to take a second look at this period, 1919-1960, and while hopefully some of you will review some of the classics we missed first time round, we will also take the chance to look at writers who carried the period forward during and after the War (WWII). The problem of the cusp is always interesting. Somewhere, Sue (WG) and I agreed that Elizabeth Harrower wrote mostly within Gen 3, and Thea Astley, who is the same age, wrote mostly within Gen 4. The transition in my mind is from a white (British) mono-culture, though with serious class problems which the upper class pretended didn’t exist, to a vibrant multi-culture (during which there was a lot of class fluidity).

All the best for a Prosperous and Healthy New Year!

Currently Reading:

In the past few days I have read and not elsewhere listed –

Christina Stead, The Little Hotel
Murray Bail, The Pages
Sayaka Murata, Earthlings This is a truly horrifying book of a women driven mad by a bad mother, a badder sister and a molesting teacher.

What I really must get stuck into reading are –

Kylie Tennant, Tell Morning This
Ernestine Hill, The Great Australian Loneliness
Joseph Furphy, Such is Life

(Not) Going Places

Journal: 062

It astonishes me just how ignorant public speakers – journalists, politicians, writers – are of spelling, vocabulary, general knowledge, and how infrequently they are called out for it. It’s a long time since I listened to the ABC’s “local” network – except for football of course – but the self-important pronouncements of men and women whose only qualification is that they have mellow voices is constantly off-putting, not to mention the ABC’s official “non-partisan” stance of giving right-wing lies equal billing with proven science.

The following, not ABC, examples came up this morning while I was reading on-line

Trump fans are calling for “succession” when they mean secession, and that’s pretty much how their night is going. It’s also a reminder that we need to invest more in education.

Palmer Report, 11 Dec 2020

The punishment metered (sic) out to both banks resulted in board and senior management changes, massive fines and reputational damage.

Adele Ferguson, The Age, “Casinos Lose”, 12 Dec 2020

Of course my own spelling is not the best and the number of times I have typed slef instead of self … The quotes were unplanned, what really got my goat was Lindsey Davis in The Ides of April who not once but repeatedly used opaque to mean see-through. As in Flavia Albia, the heroine, standing up to address a crowd in an “opaque” dress and everyone could see her legs. Remember back in the day when editors read what they were publishing.

So here I am, home at last, sitting at the computer, bookwork neglected, waffling on. Just reading odd stories mostly, or getting up to make a sandwich. My next post will be a book review. Promise! It has taken all day, 8 hours at least, to get this far. A proper Perth summer day, stinking hot, me sitting in shorts and nothing else sweating in front of an inadequate fan.

I crossed the border Wednesday latish, so, with a whole day up my sleeve (to do 14 days iso and make it to xmas dinner). Unloaded yesterday, Friday. Milly will drop in tomorrow, she has the grandkids tonight, yet another pancake breakfast I have to forego. She’s five years younger than me (yes I know, than I, but who says than I), already retired and now, moving into a retirement village. My mother’s in a retirement village! And way down the coast. Milly’s retirement village I mean. I have a house down that way so I may have to move to stay in touch.

I’ve been writing (and thinking) a lot about place. Perth is a long, narrow city of 1.1 million people, stretching 100 km along endless white Indian Ocean beaches, on a 20 km wide stretch of sandflats between the ocean and the low hills of the Darling Range, bisected by the Swan River, an insignificant stream opening up in front of the CBD to the lovely expanse of Perth Water. Milly’s new home will be at the southern end of the conurbation, on the estuary of another small waterway, the Peel. Why, I wonder, am I the only one who writes like this. Well, not only, Pam is probably even more passionate about Hobart.

Very early in my blogging life I wrote about an idea I called Intertextual Geography, and more recently I posted on a Tony Hughes-d’Aeth essay on Regional Literature. This is where I’m up to so far on the subject of ‘Place’:

  1. Our knowledge of a given place influences how we read fiction set there; and what we read influences how we see/experience that place.
  2. Writers in a place are influenced by each other, hence Regional Literature.
  3. A regional writer is an ambassador, for good or evil!, presenting his/her place to others.
  4. Much more importantly, our regional writers present our place to us, giving us new ways of experiencing and understanding it.

Now do you see why I get so angry when writers get places wrong? No? I thought not, but I’ll keep chewing away at it anyway.

In comments after the Hughes-d’Aeth review, WG raises the interesting question of how we deal with the different relationship of Indigenous writers to places with which we whites also have a relationship. More to think about. Perhaps I should say:

5. There is no place in Australia (or Canada or the USA) which was not for millenia before our arrival significant to the indigenous people of that place.

Which is trite, but then we’re not proving very good at sharing, are we. Which is as good a segue as any to this story from today’s New York Times: “Of the 7,124 books [widely read, major publishers, 1950-2018] for which we identified the author’s race, 95 percent were written by white people.” (NYT, 11 Dec 2020, Why is Publishing so White?)

Playing with the Block Editor/Slideshow: Some images of Perth Water (mine, to forestall copyright issues, and one of Milly’s of South Beach, Freo at sunset)

Recent audiobooks 

Margaret Atwood (F, Can), Cat’s Eye (1988)
Suzanne Enoch (F, USA), Angel’s Devil (1995) – Romance
Michael Connelly (M, USA), The Black Echo (1992) – Crime
Leah Fleming (F, Eng), The Girl under the Olive Tree (2013) – Hist.Fic.
Christopher Spielberg (M, Ger), 101 Nights (2003) – Crime
Emma Hart (F, Eng), The Roommate Agreement (2019) – Romance
Mary Anna Evans (F, USA), Floodgates (2009) – Crime
Lindsey Davis (F, Eng), The Ides of April (2013) – Hist.Fic/Crime
Ruth Downie (F, Eng), Vita Brevis (2016) – Hist.Fic/Crime
Pilip K Dick (M, USA), Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970) – SF
Donna Milner (F, Can), The Promise of Rain (2010) – Hist.Fic (WWII)
Alain de Botton (M, UK), The Course of Love (2016) – a very long lecture
Lydia Millet (F, USA), Mermaids in Paradise (2014) – Gen.Fic
John Marrs (M, UK), The Good Samaritan (2017) – Crime
Isabel Miller (F, USA), Patience & Sarah (1969)
Paolo Bacigalupi (M, USA), Pump Six & Other Stories (2008) – SF
JD Robb (F, USA), Wonderment in Death (2015) – SF/Crime
Martha Mitchell (F, USA), Gone with the Wind (1936) DNF
Fern Michaels (F, USA), Fancy Dancer (2012) – Romance
Norman Mailer (M, USA), Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1984)– Crime
John Connolly (M, Ire), The Unquiet (2007) – Crime
Adam Mitzner (M, USA), The Girl from Home (2016)– Crime

I also started Dickens’ Dombey & Son, 39 hours!, but the publisher, Brilliance Audio, had made a hash of the first disc, replacing some chapters with unrelated medieval history, so I was forced to give up.

Currently reading, planning to read

Ursula Le Guin (F, USA), The Unreal & the Real
Christina Stead (F, Aust/NSW), The Little Hotel
Kylie Tennant (F, Aust/NSW), Tell Morning This
Ernestine Hill (F, Aust/NSW), The Great Australian Loneliness
Joseph Furphy (M, Aust/Vic), Such is Life

Not Writing, Truckin’

Journal: 061

Last trip was meant to be my last trip for the year. Milly was insisting that I be in WA in time to get my mandatory 14 days isolation out of the way before the family sat down to Xmas dinner. After years of FIFO Xmases in early January, she chose this one to be on the day!

But Homer had freight to move and he knew I was a soft touch. Last Monday we calculated that I could get to Perth, unload, reload, have a 24 hour break, be back in Melbourne early this week, unload, reload and still be back at the WA border by the last possible day, Thu 10 Dec.

So far, I’m on time. But not much time for blogging!

The photo is of me coming in through north west Victoria yesterday evening. I chose it so that Jackie (Death by Tsundoku) could see “My Brilliant (?) Career” above the visor. If she is not otherwise occupied.

Anyway, this is just to let you all know I am still in the land of the living and will resume posting just as soon as I’m home with my feet up. I hope you all have a book ready to read and review for AWW Gen 3 Week Prt II 17-23 Jan, 2021. I hope I do.

Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood

Journal: 059

Cat's Eye Audiobook | Margaret Atwood | Audible.co.uk

After years as a truck driver, half a century! (an exaggeration, I had a 15 year white collar gap in my 30s, 40s) I am a little bit intuitive, not the way natural drivers and mechanics are, but enough to often belatedly realise, feel when things are going wrong – the smells of burning grease, oil, electric wiring, the feel of unbalanced wheels, trailers swaying or sliding, vibrations from the engine or tailshaft, changes in the constant noises of the engine and the wind.

I drive by ear, changing gear with the rise and fall of the revs, choosing the right gear to hold my speed at a given volume of noise through towns or roadworks. Until this week anyway, when books and blogging unexpectedly intervened.

A year or so ago, no doubt enticed by free books, I opened an Audible account which subsequently morphed into one book plus occasional freebies for $16/month. And so I began accumulating a library which I could not access. Ok, which I could not cable and was too incompetent to bluetooth from my phone to my truck radio.

This week, wanting to read Cat’s Eye for MARM (which has co-hosts, so here and here) I downloaded it and went out and bought expensive noise cancelling headphones. Noise cancelling! I can feel the base rumble of the engine but I can’t hear at all the wind around the cabin, the constant woosh of the air over the engine beneath my feet, the high-revving of the motor. I’m deaf to my truck!

I have some excellent books in my Audible library but I’m going to have to space them out. Listening through headphones while remaining conscious of the truck requires far more concentration than just letting all the noise of the truck and the radio speakers wash over me, more concentration than I can manage for any length of time.

I’ve read a few Margaret Atwoods, The Handmaid’s Tale & The Testaments, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin (the cover is totally familiar but I don’t remember one word of the story). She’s a good writer though her SF lacks imagination compared with greats like Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin. I didn’t have any expectations of Cat’s Eye – except that it’s long – and I looked nothing up, prepared to allow the story to speak for itself.

The protagonist, Elaine, is 8 or 9 when WWII ends and is in her mid-fifties at the time of writing, so we can say she was born in say, 1936 which I’m guessing is roughly true of Atwood also, and the book is set in about 1990. The novel is framed as Elaine coming from Vancouver where she lives to Toronto where she grew up, for a retrospective of her paintings, but mostly consists of her coming of age, from grade school through to her mid twenties.

Elaine’s father is an entomologist. When she’s young, and later in school holidays the family, father, mother, Elaine and Steven, her older brother, travel the forests in their old Studebaker, collecting bugs, camping or staying in cheap motels. Then when she’s 8 father gets a job at the university and they buy a new, unfinished house in the Toronto suburbs.

Every now and again we duck back to the ‘present day’, to the week or so Elaine is spending in John, her artist ex-husband’s apartment (while he is away). They have a daughter and she has another daughter with her second husband. I get the impression that Atwood makes herself an artist rather than a writer because she likes to philosophize about painting but also because it is easier to talk about movements in painting than in writing.

But mostly we make our way through Elaine’s childhood, year by year, structured around the two or three girls with whom she is friends and around her brother. These children Carol, Grace, Cordelia, Steven, are ciphers – temporary constructs against whom she can contrast herself and her development, abandoned when they are no longer needed. Cleverly, Atwood tells each year in some detail, detail which the Elaine of a year or two later has often forgotten.

As she moves on from being Steven’s sister to Carol’s friend to Cordelia’s friend what we observe is her socialisation from tomboy to young woman. And it is this process of what makes a girl and then a woman that is the core of the book.

Right from the beginning Atwood makes it look as though this is the story of Elaine’s relationship with the darker (I don’t mean skin colour) Cordelia, but it is nothing of the sort. Cordelia is a year older, and one or two years ahead. Elaine is willingly submissive to her, until at last Cordelia forces her to descend from the bridge over the ravine on the way home from school, abandons her when she falls through the ice into the creek and nearly dies of hypothermia. Cordelia goes off to a different school, Elaine starts high school, and then Atwood brings Cordelia back, in the same year as Elaine, makes Elaine the confident one, because that suits her narrative.

Later, Cordelia drops out of sight for years, Steven is sent off to California, Carol and Grace are long gone. Elaine studies Art History, goes from virgin to two days a week lover of her drawing teacher, another relationship involving submission, starts going out with John. The drawing teacher’s other two day a week student/lover gets pregnant and has a messy illegal abortion. Cordelia reappears, briefly, in a mental home. Elaine refuses to help or even visit her after the first time. The story stretches on for a while, but the coming of age is done and the rest is just filler.

I enjoy coming of ages and I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed too ‘living’ in Canada for a while, especially 40s, 50s Toronto, though I expect I would have enjoyed it more if I were familiar with the areas she’s writing about. I find Atwood to be a fine writer but only a so-so story teller and so it was here.

.

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye, first pub. 1988. Audiobook read by Laurel Lefkow, 2013. 15 hrs 17 min.

Audible Library

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
Joan D Vinge, The Snow Queen
Christos Tsialkos, Merciless Gods
Joy Ellis, Their Lost Daughters
Charlotte Bronte, The Professor
Thomas Keneally, The Pact
Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe
Richard Flanagan, Death of a River Guide
HG Wells, The Science Fiction Collection
F Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamzov
Andy Weir, The Martian
William Gibson, Agency
Sarah Krasnostein, The Trauma Cleaner
Charles Dickens, Bleak House
James Joyce, Ulysses
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
GG Marquez, Love in the Time Of Cholera
F Dostoyevsky, Crime & Punishment
George Eliot, Middlemarch
M Lucashenko, Too Much Lip
Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
Samuel Delaney, Dhalgren

Some of these I have read since buying the audiobook, some I own but won’t get the chance to read anytime soon and would like to listen to again, and a couple I wouldn’t have chosen but got for free. And Melanie, The Snow Queen will be next.

Madura Sunrise

Journal: 058

Yesterday morning I woke up way out in the desert at Madura, 600 km after the last town, Penong SA, 525 km to the next, Norseman WA, and another 725 km after Norseman to Perth (map). I made it home around 8.00pm but couldn’t face another 3 or 4 hours getting my last trailer in, so that cost me most of this morning. Now, after lunch and a glass of wine, I can finally attend to my bloggerly duties.

The good news is that while I was on the road Victoria announced that it had got on top of its second wave Covid outbreak and was coming out of lockdown. The next good news was that the WA’s hard border was down and that visitors would be allowed in from states without ongoing infections. The bad news was that this doesn’t yet include Victoria and that, unlike the citizens of both Vic and WA, truck drivers who travel between the two must continue to self-isolate. Still, I have my fingers crossed for Christmas.

[Just then, I wrote something, deleted it and somehow deleted the previous paragraph with it. Luckily, Undo worked just fine. Did we always have Undo?]

Otherwise, I had an unremarkable trip. It rained. It’s rained every trip for as far back as I can remember. At least with the coming of spring the rain seems a bit warmer. And I saw two Mallee Fowl. In the Mallee (north western Victoria). I’ve seen them a few times over here in the west, going into mines in mallee scrub country, but despite all the years I lived there, this was the first time I’d seen them in Victoria. Which leads me to where are the great flocks of cockatoos, galahs and rosellas that we used to see as kids? I still see some of course, but nothing like we used to, nor magpies. Every other bird these days is a crow. I blame glysophate.

That’s the reading/listening for three trips or six weeks down there, representing maybe half a dozen half-considered and abandoned posts, mostly because by the time I sit down at my computer I’ve forgotten all the arguments with which I was going to dazzle you. But two American books to which I listened on the way home made me think some more about ‘the Independent Woman’.

The Independent Woman in Australian Literature was, I’m sure you all know by now, the title of my M.Litt dissertation. Its thesis is that Australian women writers developed an archetypal heroine who eschews marriage in favour of career, that this is an alternative to the male archetype – mates in the bush/brave, larrikin Anzacs beloved of politicians; and that this archetype seems peculiarly Australian though with possible antecedents in early English Lit.

What started me thinking was Robert Heinlein’s Beyond this Horizon (1942). The principal theme of the work, as was so often the case with Heinlien, is supermen – in the Nietzschean sense – but here the hero meets a woman who might be his equal, including in the wearing of guns. His response is, “You’re not one of those independent women, are you?” before wrestling her to the floor, taking away her gun, and forcing her to accept a kiss. At which she falls in love with him and becomes the mother of his (super) children.

Next up was a Danielle Steel, Power Play (2014), which was less formulaic than I had feared. We follow two CEOs of major corporations who have very contrasting years. One, a woman, long divorced is both competent and moral; the other a guy with a wife who gave up being a lawyer to be his perfect helpmeet, who sleeps with his young women employees, and who has a second family in another city. Interestingly, the guy has a woman chairman of the board who forces him to resolve the two wives thing (Spoiler: they both leave him).

It is my opinion, though without going to the trouble of collecting actual evidence, that US writers shy away from allowing their women too much independence and almost invariably have them, in the end, deferring to men. Prime example: Marge Simpson. Possible exception: Willa Cather.

In my next post, later this week (touch wood), I’ll address Brona’s #AusReadingMonth2020 and also my coming Australian Women Writers, Gen 3 Part II Week (second or third week of Jan. 2021).

Recent audiobooks 

Gene Wolfe (M, USA), The Land Across (2013) – SF (sort of)
Kevin Wignall (M, Eng), The Traitor’s Story (2016)
John Grisham (M, USA), Sycamore Row (2013) – Crime
Jacqueline Winspear (F, Eng), In This Grave Hour (2017) – Crime
Jenny Siller (F, USA), Iced (2000) – Crime
Mark Twain (M, USA), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
Nick Spalding (M, Eng), Love and Sleepless Nights (2012) – Comedy?
Neil White (M, Eng), Next to Die (2013) – Crime
JD Robb (F, USA), Born in Death (2006) – SF/Crime
Edith Wharton (F, USA), A Son at the Front (1923)
Lee Child (M, Eng), A Wanted Man (2012) – Crime
Ben Lieberman (M, USA), Odd Jobs (2013)– Crime. DNF
Petra Durst-Benning (F, Ger), The Glassblower (2014) – Hist.Fic
Gaston Leroux (M, Fra), The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908) – Crime
Bradford Morrow (M, USA), The Forgers (2013)– Crime. DNF. Boring
F Herbert, B Ransom (M, USA), The Ascension Factor (1988) – SF
Unknown (M, Eng), Beowulf (700?)
Danielle Steel (F, USA), Power Play (2014)
L Ziepe (F, Eng), The Morning After the Wedding Before (2019) – Comedy
Bruce Porter (M, USA), Snatched (2016)– NonFic.
Mickey Spillane, M Collins (M, USA), King of the Weeds (2014) – Crime
Robert Heinlein (M, USA), Beyond this Horizon (1942)– SF

Currently reading

KS Prichard (F, Aust/Vic), The Pioneers
Melina Marchetta (F, Aust/NSW), Saving Francesca
Melina Marchetta (F, Aust/NSW), The Place on Dalhousie
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Grand Sophy

Recent Purchases

Zorah Neale Hurston (F, USA), Jonah’s Gourd Vine
Elena Ferrante (F, Ita), The Lying Life of Adults
Sally Rooney (F, Eng), Conversations with Friends
Haruki Murakmi (M, Jap), The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Thomas Pynchon (M, USA), V
Ursula Le Guin (F, USA) The Unreal and the Real Vol.s 1,2

Zane Grey

Journal: 057

Zane Grey (1872-1939) was born in Zanesville, Ohio. How cool is that? Zane was his mother’s surname and the city was built on land owned by her family. His original first name was Pearl, as in pearl grey, the colour of Queen Victoria’s mourning dress (according to Wikipedia, so it must be true).

He is of course famous as a writer of cowboy stories, 90 odd all-up. Grey lived in Pennsylvania from 1905-1918, then in California. He was married, had numerous affairs and travelled extensively (within USA). From 1923-1930 he had a cabin in Arizona. The book I listened to recently, Captives of the Desert seems to have been written in 1925. It is set in desert country in Arizona which he describes with great affection. What’s most interesting is that although this is ostensibly the story of John Curry, a cowboy  – a herder of intrepid tourists rather than of cows, and in fact the properties in the desert seem to mostly run sheep – the other principal characters are all women: Mary who is married to a no-hoper; Mary’s friend Catherine who has come out from the east to be with her sister who is an invalid; and Magdalene, a young Navajo woman who has been away to school and now finds herself neither western nor native American.

The feeling I got is that Zane Grey is far more liberal than you might expect from a writer of pulp fiction for rural working men. He has a lot of sympathy for the shit the Navajos have to put up with and in particular the difficult situation Magdalene is in, where her education is not valued by her fellows and yet there is no place for her in white society.

Curry is hopelessly in love with Mary. Magdalene and maybe Catherine are hopelessly in love with Curry. Mary slowly comes to despair of her husband, who leaves her when he realises Mary is not the heiress he hoped for.

While we are driving old cars or riding horses and mules through desert canyons, dealing warily with the local native Americans, and conducting tourists on trail rides, the husband is having another shot at making his fortune selling liquor – which was banned on Indian reservations in Arizona by state law and subsequently by federal law (1920-1933). Magdalene gets pregnant; various people get shot; and yes there is a happy ending, two in fact.

Both Mary and Curry are very nineteenth century. Mary in her determination to be a good wife to a man she despises, and Curry in his honourableness, his wish to serve Mary but to not compromise her marriage. I found Captives of the Desert to be good, thoughtful reading (listening).


I didn’t mean to write so much about what is after all an obscure book, but Zane Grey is interesting for the light he shines, or the study of him shines, on the Bulletin school of Australian writing. As with many other issues, 1950s US movie culture – in this case cowboy and indian movies – stands between us and a proper understanding of where society was at pre WWII.

There are lots of things I haven’t done that I mean to and following up the myth of the American ‘Noble Frontiersman’ (in Canada as well as the US) and how that feeds into Australian Legend is one of them. I wonder if I can get ES Ellis on audiobook.


After not this last trip but the one before, I didn’t look for any freight at the end of the week and was happy, even on my own, to have a weekend at home. As it happens, I loaded the following Thurs and stayed on in Perth a couple of days, to be out of iso for just one day for the first time in months, had tea at Milly’s and took our granddaughter out to lunch for her birthday.

As you know, Melanie/GTL and I were working on The Slap and in the course of our interchanges I sent her a photo of a dingo which came up to my truck at Nullarbor station. She promptly imagined a whole story around Bingo the dingo, including adopting it and heading off on a road trip in a red convertible. I turned around very quickly in Melbourne and Bingo was still there when I got back, and although it’s not apparent in this photo, she’s clearly a bitch who has just had pups. So now it’s Lady Bingo and maybe the whole Thelma and Louise scenario (Don’t do it Melanie!).


I’m settling down with the new WordPress editor and have even converted the Truck Pix page of my work website to a slideshow, following a hint from WG. Next step is to play with Tables which Karen/Booker Talk makes a start on here in Comments.


Did you see WG’s most recent Monday Musings where her 100 year old father burst into song. We got onto my own father singing – in 1959, just me and him on the road from Leongatha to Sea Lake (500 km). His grade 6 had done HMS Pinafore for speech night, and he sang it to me to wile away the hours.

I only have Pirates of Penzance and The Gondoliers in the truck , but Pinafore is the one that has stuck and I was silly enough to boast that I could still sing Dear Little Buttercup (in falsetto!). Despite requests, that won’t be inflicted on my readers. But it reminded me that three or four years later in his first (and only) headmastership, Dad got his teachers to perform the Death of Julius Caesar – you know: “He was stabbed in the rotunda.” “Oh! That must have been painfull!”. He played Calpurnia and his “I told him Julie , don’t go, don’t go” in falsetto is still with me. (It’s actually Rinse the Blood off my Toga).

 

Recent audiobooks 

Mudrooroo (M, Aust/WA), Wild Cat Falling (1965) – DNF. Read by the author whose older ‘university’ voice was just wrong for the story
BV Larson (M, USA), Tech World (2014) – SF
Tom Franklin (M, USA), Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (2010) – Crime
Joy Fielding (F, USA), Someone is Watching (2015) – DNF. Shoot me if I pick up another Joy Fielding. She gets off on gratuitous violence.
Tess Gerritsen (F, USA), The Bone Garden (2007) – Crime/Hist.Fic.
Zane Grey (M, USA), Captives of the Desert (1926) – Western
Lisa Kleypas (F, USA), Sugar Daddy (2006) – Crime

Currently reading

Ivan Čapovski (M, Macedonia), The Sorrow of Miles Franklin…
Jessica White (F, Aust/Qld), A Curious Intimacy
JD Salinger (M, USA), The Catcher in the Rye
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Talisman Ring
Milan Kundera (M, Czech), The Farewell Party

Australian Grunge

Journal: 056

Melanie at Grab The Lapels and I are planning to buddy read and review Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap (in about four weeks) and I thought I would provide some background about Tsiolkas’ writing, hence the title of today’s Journal.

But let me first say here just how angry I am that WordPress have steamrolled the introduction of block editing. Like all modern editors WordPress of course knows much better than I what I am attempting to achieve. I used to use HTML to produce single spaced lists. The new editor is happy for me to do this. In draft. And then publishes the list double spaced. I pay them for my business site and if I can’t produce simple posts with lists and pix on my phone then I will take my business to someone who can.

Yes I am sure there is a block for single spaced lists and blocks for photos. But I drive trucks 15 hours a day for a week or ten days at a time; apart from audiobooks I am barely reading; my Blog Unread folder is backing up alarmingly; and I just can’t be stuffed learning yet another new system.

And before I go on I must say thank you to Karen at BookerTalk who has dedicated a lot of her posts this year, and much time and energy commenting, to WordPress features and the new editor.

Back to Tsiolkas. He was born in 1965, in Melbourne, and went to school at Blackburn High – as did two of my kids, Psyche and Lou, a decade later. His parents were migrants from Greece. He’s gay. His first novel was Loaded (1995). The Slap (2008) was his fourth.

I wrote an essay on Loaded and Australian grunge in 2005:

The work of a number of young authors published for the first time in the 1990s, commencing with Andrew McGahan (Praise, 1992) and including Justine Ettler (River Ophelia, 1995), Linda Jaivin (Eat Me, 1995) and Christos Tsiolkas (Loaded, 1995), has been given the label Australian Grunge.

“At the Melbourne Writers Festival in 1998 the Aust.Lit. discusssion group including McGahan, Fiona McGregor, Jaivin and Tsiolkas “all remonstrated at how hateful they found the label and how they did not wish to be associated with it.”

Grunge seems to have been a fashion that passed. Internationally it had its antecedents in Beat (William Burroughs) and Punk (Kathy Acker). Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting came out in 1993. In Australia we had William Dick and Mudrooroo in the 50s and Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip in 1977, but that’s about it. What druggy, inner-suburban novels have I missed?

I wrote a bit about Loaded. How about:

Loaded is even more pernicious. Sex between men mocks the whole notion of mateship – the great bond that unites and succours the ‘legends’ in the bush. Ari struggles with his identity as a man, as a man in Australia, and as a man of Greek extraction. “I’m a man I say in a deep drawl. And I take it up the arse. Of course you do, she answers, you’re Greek, we all take it up the arse.”

Jaivin, who was older than the others, and whose Eat Me was actually middle class erotica, quickly produced a couple of ‘grunge’ novels to take advantage of her unexpected notoriety. If you ever see Rock ‘n Roll Babes from Outer Space give it a try, it’s quite amusing.

The others moved on. McGahan wrote one more and then his next was a police procedural. The next of Tsiolkas’ that I read was Dead Europe (2005). I seem to remember an Australian gay man in Athens and then up in the mountains seeking out rellos.

At this point I am down about 30 cm – maybe 50 lines by 12 words across, so 600 words. Despairing sigh. Karen! Where’s the word count?

I was going to write something about the books I listened to this last trip, but they were boring, why bother. Yesterday I started four and DNF’d them all, one after 10 hours that wasn’t going anywhere, two I just didn’t like, and one by a Palestinian-American that was hopeless, ie. completely bereft of hope in the face of the Zionist juggernaut.

WA has tightened up its Covid rules once again for travellers from Melbourne and so I am back in isolation. I always thought I could survive solitary confinement if I had enough books. Now I am not so sure.

I’ve copied the lists of current reading from an earlier Journal, which I’ll overwrite. If they stay single spaced they’re in, if not they’re out. But of course WordPress knows I don’t really want two empty lines before the lists (or perhaps it’s simply against the rules). Now where the hell are Tags and Categories.

Recent audiobooks 

Yelena Akhtiorskaya (F, USA/Ukraine), Panic in a Suitcase (2014)
Lauren Francis-Sharma (F, USA/Trinidad), ‘Til the Well Runs Dry (2014)
Elizabeth Aston (F, Eng), The True Darcy Spirit (2015) – Romance
Charles Willeford (M, USA), New Hope for the Dead (1985) – Crime
Erle Stanley Gardner (M, USA), The Case of the Crying Swallow (1947) – Crime
Erica Jong (F, USA), Fear of Dying (2015) DNF
Susan Abulhawa (F, Palestine/USA), The Blue between Sky and Water (2015) DNF
Erica Ferencik (F, USA), Into The Jungle (2019) DNF
Joy Fielding (F, USA), All the Wrong Places (2019) – Crime DNF

Currently reading

Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap
Martin Boyd, The Cardboard Crown

Strong Motion, Johnathan Franzen

Journal: 55

 

Strong Motion Franzen

‘Strong Motion’ is a term associated with earthquakes. Franzen’s Strong Motion (1992), ostensibly an ecological thriller about artificially induced earthquakes, is really a literary work about a relationship, between Louis, 21, unemployed, and Reneé, 29, a post-grad seismologist at Harvard. I don’t know Franzen, I don’t know his place in US or world literature, but I recognise his name and was was willing to give up the 21 plus hours this book – read well by Scott Aille – took: a night through northern Victoria, a day across South Australia, Renmark, Burra, Port Augusta, Ceduna, another night, out across the Nullarbor, and with the morning, on into Western Australia.

Franzen (b. 1959) is a literary novelist, columnist and educator. A quote by one of his students: “He read our stories so closely that he often started class with a rundown of words that were not used quite correctly in stories from that week’s workshop” is amusing as I noted that Franzen had someone waiting for a printer to “divulge” a printout, as if printers knew what they were printing, when he should have used the more prosaic “disgorge”.

My mind wanders. The 1990s were a decade when ecology was the concern and not global warming. In the 1990s in my circle (me, Milly, Lou) it was de rigeur to read Ben Elton who had become famous with a movie about rockets in the Australian desert (Stark) – and yes, I saw every episode of The Young Ones and most of Blackadder, I just didn’t associate them with Elton the novelist. Elton lived for a while in Fremantle and was treated as WA’s most prominent public intellectual, a role now granted to a chancer from the upper classes who lived for years mining mum and dad investors on the stock exchange until one of his gambles paid off spectacularly well and now he is a Boyer lecturer (I cringe for ‘our’ ABC).

My mind wanders to Elton because halfway through Strong Motions the most likeable  protagonist is shot. One of Elton’s books has a protagonist in a wheel chair who just as you are getting fully involved with him is run down and killed and the book goes on without him. I still remember the shock, though nothing else except that the book is set in London.

The ecological thriller part of the book concerns a Boston-based petrochemical and weapons company, Sweeting-Aldren. I immediately think of Dow, indelibly associated with the Vietnam War and napalm (but not as it happens, Boston-based). Louis’ grandfather had been a S-A exec. and on re-marrying had invested his $20 mil fortune in S-A shares which on his death had gone to his new wife. At the beginning of the book Louis goes to visit his step-grandmother only to find she has fallen off her bar stool in a localized earthquake and died. The shares then go to Louis’ mother who shares her good fortune with his sister but not with Louis or with his father, a history professor.

Reneé meanwhile comes to believe that the localized earthquakes being felt in the Boston suburb of Peabody are being caused by S-A pumping toxic waste into a disused very deep (6 miles) well. Louis and Reneé meet and begin to sleep together. I don’t mean to go on with a full account of the plot. Reneé has self-image problems. Reneé says she does not intend to mother Louis, but does. Louis has family problems. Louis has a girl in Texas who has plenty of problems of her own. Louis tells Reneé he loves her. Louis goes off with the other girl. Reneé has an abortion. There’s a whole other sub-plot going on with an anti-abortion Southern Baptist church. The earthquake/villainous chemical company thing comes to a head.

It is all very well done. Louis is the principal protagonist, but Franzen is omniscient and quite happy to look at a given scene from Reneé’s POV and occasionally from someone else’s. No, I don’t think he is as convincing giving Reneé’s POV, especially when she speaks passionately as a women’s libber (or a woman during sex).

I get the impression reading up on Franzen that, despite his appearance on the cover of Time as the ‘Great American Novelist’ (in 2010), he has never really made the transition from really good to ‘great’, and that like many other ‘really good’ novelists before him, in a decade or two he will be forgotten.

Did I like it, Melanie? Yes I did. Though for once I wasn’t really keen on the two protagonists getting/staying together and thought they could have done better with other people.

Now, how am I doing in this time of Covid? For once the rules didn’t change as I was crossing the border. My electronic passes into SA and WA worked fine. To meet SA’s rule about being tested every 7 days, I did a second test in WA before I left and that carried me over, though I saw a sign saying that I could get tested at the border if necessary. I got in to Perth yesterday (Friday) morning and did a test when I finished unloading to meet WA’s 48 hour rule. No result yet. There is talk of WA and SA having the same testing regimen, but probably not in my lifetime.

More importantly, Milly says I can see her once I have my test result. But I still have to wear a mask. Seeing Milly, though still not Gee and the grandkids, probably makes waiting 14 days till I’m clear bearable, but as it happens I have the makings of another load (to Leongatha again) and so should be on my way by Thursday.

 

Johnathan Franzen, Strong Motion, first pub. 1992. Brilliance Audio, 2013, read by Scott Aiello

Recent audiobooks 

Aaron Elkins (M, USA), Deceptive Clarity (1987) – Crime
Kendra Elliot (F, USA), Spiraled (2015) – Crime
Jasper Fforde (M, Eng), Shades of Grey (2009) – SF
Robert Wilson (M, Eng), Capital Punishment (2013) – Crime
Michael Connelly (M, USA), Bloodwork (1998) – Crime
Loren D Estleman (F, USA), Ragtime Cowboys (2014) – Crime/Hist.Fic.
Annie Ernaux (F, Fra), I Remain in Darkness (1999) – Memoir
Robert Pobi (M, USA), American Woman (2014) – Crime
Patti Henry (F, USA), And Then I Found You (2013) – Romance
Fannie Flagg (F, USA), Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1987/2000) Abridged to 2 hours. I wouldn’t have read it if I’d noticed, but it’s read by the author
Gigi Pandian (F, USA), Pirate Vishnu (2013) – Crime
Peyton Marshall (F, USA), Good House (2014) – SF
Johnathan Franzen (M, USA), Strong Motion (1992)

Currently reading

Thea Astley (F, Aust/Qld), Collected Stories
Thea Astley (F, Aust/Qld), Drylands
Paul Magrs (M, Eng), Exchange

 

 

 

Covid-19, Testing, Testing

Journal: 054

SF Naked Women

Why have I commenced with three naked women? Because I can? Maybe. Or because WG and I and Neil@ Kallaroo diverted ourselves in the Comments on a recent Monday Musings to a discussion of old time SF covers and naked women in bubble helmets. A quick survey of my shelves brought up these just in the Vs and Ws but not any bubble helmets, and in fact I would say the majority of my 1960s and 70s covers were space ships, as below.

Jack Vance The Face

So, does this presage a change in direction of my reviewing. In short, no. I’ve been blogging more than five years without exhausting my stocks of pre-War Australian women writers, and with judicious up-topping will easily manage another five. To even make a dent in my shelves of SF would take me another lifetime.

But to the matter at hand. I am home, in Perth. Let us put up a truck pic and restart.

IMG20200730142558

When last we spoke I was masked up in Melbourne, loading for home, looking forward with some trepidation to crossing from Victoria into SA and more particularly from SA into WA. I loaded three trailers with steel, topped up with cars and set out once more, on Thursday, up through the Mallee to Ouyen and into SA at Pinnaroo. SA require drivers to obtain an entry permit on line. I’d submitted an application but been refused. I complained. Two very nice clerks from SAPol phoned me separately to get me going. Turns out my permit for my previous trip was valid for six months. Problem solved.

The WA border was just as easy. In the two or three weeks since my last crossing WA had instituted an online permit called G2G, presumably Good to Go. I got one. The policeman at the border – police people are so young these days – scanned my phone with his phone, issued me stern instructions to get a virus test within 48 hours of that minute, 9pm Friday, and another on the eleventh day – I was given a chart showing that the eleventh day after a Friday is a Tuesday – on pain of a $50,000 fine.

I forgot to say I’m not allowed in SA without a test every seven days. Seems to me the chances of WA’s eleventh day and SA’s seventh day being the same day are pretty slim.

I had my 48 hour test this afternoon (Sunday) at Royal Perth where I was met at the door – separate from the main door of course – by two preliminary surveyors, passed on to a receptionist who took down much the same info and then after a short wait, to a serious senior woman, nurse or doctor I don’t know, who was at some pains to discuss my situation, the situation of truck drivers in general, and to explain the procedure – swabs from the back of my throat and from each nostril. It’s meant to be uncomfortable rather than painful but the back of my nose was still stinging an hour later.

I had been concerned that if I was ever going to get infected it would be in a waiting room full of people waiting to be tested, but as I should have guessed from WA’s usual daily zero cases, I was the only customer.

Homer, the friendly manager of the transport company I load out of Melbourne for, has a new client and wants me to do the first load from Perth to Melbourne (probably because his own drivers refused). I’m loading one trailer tomorrow just as soon as I can get it unloaded and I think I’m expected in Melbourne Friday. I hope he’s not reading this because I can’t get away early enough to be there before the following Monday.

The big problem of course is that as of last night Victoria has declared a ‘State of Disaster’ and tomorrow will start closing businesses. I can always unload at the transport depot if the client is unable to receive me, but will I then find a load home? And having loaded will SA let me transit, will WA let me back in?

Tune in this time in ten days for the next exciting episode. Chicken Man! (oops, sorry, wrong promo).