Australian Book Review

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January/February 2018

The Australian Book Review has entered its fortieth year. I’ve been a subscriber for the last ten of those – since I was getting to the end of my M.Litt and was looking for a way to stay plugged in to Australian writing – but this will be my last year. Lisa at ANZLitLovers has been telling me for ages that she feels that ABR has drifted away from Aust.Lit and out into the wider world, which is much better covered by other publications, and now at last I agree with her.

For most of those ten years and no doubt for the thirty prior the ABR has done its job. A wide range of new Australian books have been reviewed by leading writers and experts in their field – and I think here in particular of regular contributor Neil Blewett, a senior minister in the Hawke and Keating governments – there are annual poetry, short story and essay competitions, visual arts editions and so on. And of course there is a website, which I don’t usually look at.

Once upon a time I would go straight to Letters to the Editor where there would nearly always be at least one author complaining bitterly about their review and the reviewer, always given right of reply, biting back. This has been less the case over the past two or three years and in this issue there are no letters at all as far as I can see.

As for new releases, over the years I have been introduced to some marvellous novels that I would otherwise have missed but again, less so in the past couple of years, partly of course because I follow lit.bloggers who post two, three four times a week and keep us all pretty well up to date.

Let us look more closely at the Jan-Feb 2018 issue pictured above. It begins with half a dozen pages of bits and pieces, ads and self-promotion, rather like an old newspaper beginning with the classifieds. The first review, the ‘Review of the Month’ is of Alexis Wright’s Tracker – her 650pp collage/biog. of Tracker Tilmouth – by Michael Winkler. It’s a cracker and ends –

Wright’s brace of ineffable, awkward, uncanny novels (Carpentaria, The Swan Book) will be unravelled and enjoyed by readers when other contemporary fiction is forgotten. Tracker, a book performed by a folk ensemble rather than a solo virtuoso, adds to her enduring non-fiction oeuvre that captures the unique ground-level realpolitik of Aboriginal Australia.

Then we have reviews of The Cold War: A World History by a Norwegian professor at Harvard; The Pivot of Power on Australian prime ministers 1949-2016; Chris Masters on Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan (not my cup of tea!); A New Literary History of China (reviewed by Nicholas Jose); David Malouf and the Poetic; and the next highlight, although it’s not Australian, Brenda Niall on Claire Tomalin’s memoir, A Life of My Own. Our own Michelle Scott Tucker and Nathan Hobby have distinguished careers in front of them if they follow Tomalin’s path: “Tomalin was forty when she wrote her first book, a life of Mary Wollstonecraft, in which she had an almost unexplored field.” Though her subsequent biographies on “Shelley, Austen, Pepys, Hardy and Dickens” might prove a tough act to follow!

After that were reviews of (tv journalist) Mike Willesee’s memoir; something about a French restaurant in America; Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown’s diary; yet another David Attenborough; a novel about a character out of Henry James (reviewed by Brenda Niall); something, something a character out of King Lear. I’m barely even reading the headings at this point; The Best Australian Stories 2017 edited by Maxine Beneba Clarke; All My Goodbyes from Argentina; a few pages of fill – Australian publishers pick their favourite book of 2017.

By now we’re at the middle, I can see the staples, and a review of (Victorian Governor) La Trobe which makes me hopeful; but we go right back to Hilary Spurling on Anthony Powell (who?); the “Right’s stealth plan for America”; Richard Nixon: The Life !!!!; a book on philosopher Derek Parfit, edited by Peter Singer; a biography of Czeslaw Milosz; a few pages of poetry; it just goes on and on, occasional Australian novels, the story of a cricket photographer; a few pages on The Arts. The ABR is a magazine entirely without direction.

I sometimes muse while I work – truck driving is a great job for musing – about an Australian lit.mag of my own. Our own really, as the AWW Gen 1 page demonstrated, with 14 articles by nine contributors in little more than a week. Of course this is at least partly a solution looking for a problem. There isn’t a lot wrong with our current model of writing what interests us and following and interacting with bloggers with similar interests. And all though we sometimes deny it, we also tend to write and therefore read, in order to interest others, to keep our readerships happy.

I get great joy from my participation in this corner of the blogosphere, but it, so far anyway, has shortfalls in two areas:

Reading top flight Australian authors on other top flight Australian authors – which the ABR at least sometimes fills; and

Discussion of Australian literary theory – which the ABR ignores.

I could probably deal with the latter by subscribing to one or more journals, google suggests the Australian Literary Studies Journal (here). For the former there is apparently the Australian, but the Murdoch press is so virulently anti-worker that I refuse to have anything to do with it. My own local paper the West Australian which I sometimes still buy on Saturdays, reviews only page turners.

Of course, I don’t have time to collate a magazine and anyway it wouldn’t make sense unless it somehow achieved a readership way beyond the few thousand who follow Whispering Gums and ANZLitLovers, envy-inducing as that is. I don’t know what ABR’s readership is, it doesn’t appear in Gary Morgan’s annual readership survey, but 30,000 maybe? That was the readership of Truck & Bus Magazine in its heyday. Soap World, whatever that is, has a readership of 40,000 and Readers Digest (Australia) 436,000, so if I ever retire that’s what I’ll aim for.

 


Update: Miles Franklin page

Review by Emma, Book Around the Corner of My Brilliant Career  here


Update: Australian Women Writers Gen 1 page

Reviews by Lisa, ANZLitLovers of:
Ellen Clacy, A Lady’s Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852-53 here
Bronwen Hickman, Mary Gaunt: Independent Colonial Woman here

Sue, Whispering Gums posted three consecutive ‘Monday Musings’ on early Australian women writers:
Literary Culture in Colonial Australia, 22 Jan 2018 here
Reading Aloud in Colonial Australia, 29 Jan 2018 here
Women Academics on Colonial Women Writers, 5 Feb 2018 here

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Season’s Greetings 2017

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Sturt’s Desert Pea, Great Sandy Desert WA

Another year, another 70 or 80 posts. I love it, much more fun than doing a degree – and I’ve spent 30 odd years studying over these 66 – and just as stimulating, and just as much hard work. Anyway, all the best for another year. Thank you all for reading what I write, for commenting, for your posts and for all the great discussions.

I’ve illustrated this post with Sturt’s Desert Pea for Melanie at Grab The Lapels who is an American and not up on Australian flora. I said I’d send you some Melanie, sorry they’re late. The photo is from around September, four years ago. The Great Sandy Desert is north of the Tropic of Capricorn and mostly dry, as you’d expect! But prone to floods in the rainy season (summer monsoons/cyclones). I haven’t been up there this year, to my sorrow, and instead have a ‘retirement’ job tootling between Perth and the Eastern Goldfields (Kalgoorlie etc.).

As usual I’ve read far too few new books over the course of the year, just squeezing in Kim Scott’s Taboo and Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love in the last couple of weeks. Both of them deserve all manner of prizes and in fact it’s about time Scott won the Booker, though I think Benang (1999) is probably still his best work, certainly his most ambitious. Jane Rawson is still my favourite underrated author and this year she released From the Wreck which I thoroughly enjoyed and I would also recommend the similar in spirit, Terra Nullius from new author Claire G Coleman.

As well as ‘real’ books I got through 150 audio books this year, only some of which I reviewed. Leaving aside Jane Austen (I probably listen to each of her novels on about a two year rotation) the best I listened to this year was Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War, but I would like to give an honourable mention to Kingsley Amis’ Booker Prize winning The Old Devils (1986), one of the very few books about guys my age I’ve bothered reading.

So, drum roll, we get to Best Blog Post for 2017 (as read by wadholloway), and the winner is:

Lisa Hill of ANZLitLovers for the amazing, never-ending Finegan’s Wake series which has been alternately informing and bemusing us throughout the year.

I guess I have a thing about series because my runner up is Michelle (MST) of Adventures in Biography for her step by step account of writing and getting published a biography of Elizabeth Macarthur, from when she was accepted into Hard Copy (with a finely polished first chapter) way back in April 2015 through to book launch/release in April next year.

There is another series I must mention, Jane Rawson and Annabel Smith’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Book. If you’re thinking about writing a book or are just interested in the process, read this lively (and informative) series.

Melanie at Grab The Lapels too does some excellent series, like reading/reviewing every single Anne of Green Gables book and this year reviewing Fat Women’s Lit (which I discussed here) but I chose this post ‘Apology, College in Prison, and Belly Song book thoughts‘ as representative of why she is such a delight to follow.

My favourite post of my own for the year, I won’t say all of them though there is a place in my heart for the ones that receive the least attention, is Author Interview, Justine Ettler,  a really informative look into the process and perils of writing post-modern fiction.

My favourite online columnist continues to be communist and feminist Helen Razer in the Daily Review (free) and Crikey (paywalled). Who could not love the line “Liking the TV version of Atwood’s mediocre work of speculative fiction serves as a substitute for feminist knowledge.” (about The Handmaid’s Tale, of course) in this essay on the new female Dr Who (here). Though Guy Rundle, also in Crikey, also a communist and generally more serious, runs her close.

Next year I will be hosting Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week 15-21 Jan. 2018 and have already put up a ‘beta’ version of a page (AWW Gen 1, above) as a resource for readers interested in the first generation of Australian women writers (1788-1889). I have guest posters lined up and some reviews, but please, I’d love you to read one of the books and give me a link to your review. Ada Cambridge, Rosa Praed and Tasma are all eminently readable and can be found online here at the AWW Challenge site.

In passing, I have also converted Miles Franklin Central to a page (Miles Franklin, above) to make it more readily accessible.

I’m behind in my xmas present buying this year, so no list, though I did follow up a recommendation by one of you after my review of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and buy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – now, who to give it to? At least I’m home this year, I often work through – the roads are very quiet on Xmas Day – Mum and teacher son are coming over from Melbourne and my niece and geology daughter who live nearby to each other south of Fremantle have a day of eating and drinking planned for our extended family, lots of kids!. Enjoy the holidays and all the best for the New Year!

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Hydra, April 2017. If only

 

A late addition: Helen Razer’s Year of Living Magnanimously: Our Five Faves for the Festive Season, Daily Review (here)

 

Australian Women Writers Bingo 2017

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I meant all along to enter this years’s AWW Bingo and didn’t realise I’d missed it until I saw the winner announced a few days ago (here). As usual there were two bingo cards, and as it happens, no one completed the second, the Classics Challenge, so I thought I would go back through my reviews for the past year and see how I would have done.

19th Century. I read/reviewed three (Australian) works first published in the C19th:

Ada Cambridge, The Three Miss Kings, 1883 (review)

Tasma, A Sydney Sovereign, 1890 (review)

Catherine Helen Spence, A Week in the Future, 1888-9 (review)

Early 20th Century. Here, I’m afraid, I have to cheat.

Miles Franklin, Cockatoos, first written as On the Outside Track in 1903 but not published until 1954 after being re-written to fit into the Brent of Bin Bin series (review)

If they ask the same question next year I will make sure I can answer:

Barbara Baynton, Human Toll, 1907 which has sat in my TBR for years.

And if it comes to that, I have read and should put up reviews of MF’s first two published novels, My Brilliant Career (1901) and Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909).

1920s and 1930s. The work I have done this past year to review all of ‘Brent of Bin Bin’and to contribute to Lisa at ANZLL’s Christina Stead page pays off here.

Miles Franklin, Ten Creeks Run, 1930 (review)

Miles Franklin, Back to Bool Bool, 1931 (review)

Miles Franklin, Old Blastus of Bandicoot, 1931 (review)

Christina Stead, The Salzburg Tales, 1934 (review)

Henry Handel Richardson, The Young Cosima, 1939 (review)

1940s and 1950s. More Franklin/Brent of Bin Bin and more Stead, but also …

Kylie Tennant, The Honey Flow, 1956 (review)

Charmian Clift, Travels in Greece, first pub. 1958-9 (review)

Miles Franklin, Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang, 1956 (review)

Miles Franklin, Prelude to Waking, 1950 (review)

Christina Stead, Letty Fox Her Luck, 1946 (review)

1960s and 1970s. Stead keeps writing.

Christina Stead, Cotters’ England, 1966 (review)

Christina Stead, Miss Herbert (A Suburban Wife), 1976 (review)

Thea Astley, A Kindness Cup, 1974 (review)

A Contemporary Classic. I reviewed a few from the 1980s on, but I think these three, and particularly the last, deserve to be ‘classics’

Elizabeth Jolley, The Newspaper of Claremont Street, 1981 (review)

Helen Garner, The Spare Room, 2008 (review)

Alexis Wright, The Swan Book, 2013 (review)

Non-Fiction. You’ll see a ring-in amongst these, about an AWW rather than by, which led to a guest post/Monday Musings on Whispering Gums (here)

Bertha Lawson, My Henry Lawson (memoir), 1943 (review)

Miles Franklin, Laughter, Not for a Cage (collected essays), 1954 (review)

Brian Matthews, Louisa (biography), 1987 (review)

Chris Williams, Christina Stead: A Life of Letters (biography), 1989 (review)

Larrissa Behrendt, Finding Eliza (historiography), 2016 (review)

Sarah Goldman, Caroline Chisholm, 2017 (review)

Not yet Reviewed for AWW. I think that was true of all the old books I put up, except maybe A Sydney Sovereign. I’ll choose the least well-known.

Catherine Helen Spence, A Week in the Future, 1888-9 (review)

Free Square. Maybe not a ‘classic’, but certainly a favourite. I’m going to choose, drum roll ….

Jane Rawson, From the Wreck, 2017 (review)

I think in a hundred years time Wright’s The Swan Book will be the stand-out of all these, and maybe Astley’s A Kindness Cup, though I hope Stead is still rated highly (and Jolley, of course, but maybe not for Newspaper).

So, I wonder, what are the ‘classics’ of Australian women’s lit.? This is probably a subject for another post, but how about these five for starters:

Eleanor Dark, The Timeless Land, 1941

Christina Stead, The Man Who Loved Children, 1940

Elizabeth Jolley, The Well, 1986

Justine Ettler, The River Ophelia, 1995

Alexis Wright, Carpentaria, 2006

Arbitrarily stopping at five means I have unhappily left out two novels I have reviewed in the past 12 months Janette Turner Hospital’s Orpheus Lost (2007) and Astley’s A Kindness Cup and also Clara Morrison (1854) by Catherine Helen Spence which Miles Franklin in Laughter not for a Cage suggests is the best novel of the C19th (by an Australian woman).

Also left out are Franklin’s own My Brilliant Career (1901), Seven Little Australians (1894) by Ethel Turner and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (1918) by May Gibbs which are all certainly classics, but not, I think, literary. What do you think?

 

An Australian Trump

Donald Trump
photo released by US Embassy, Venezuela (here)

This is, or is meant to be, a blog about representations of Australianness, so I was intrigued to see in yesterday morning’s (Mon 28 Aug. 17) Crikey roundup:

Why Germany will never have a Trump (Der Spiegel): “Who could emerge as a German Trump? There are no men like him in the German political world, nor are they prevalent in other areas of German life either. This aggressive, primitive archetype is no longer accepted here. The American masculinity myth stretches back to the cowboy, while the German equivalent is rooted in the soldier — and the latter died in World War II.”

Like the American cowboy, the Australian Legend has its roots in the myth of the Noble Frontiersman – a simple, honest man living in and conquering nature – while I guess the author is saying that the German equivalent is derived from the ideal Prussian officer. But what is the connection between “masculinity myths” and elections? And are we as equally likely as the Americans to elect a Trump?

Here is the central question of the essay: “Why does the U.S. — the political, moral and military leader of the Western world since the end of World War II — now have a dangerous laughing stock, a man who has isolated his country, as its president? Why does Germany, a former pariah, now enjoy a more positive political standing than ever before?”

The author’s thesis is that since Hitler and since the Holocaust, Germans have been frightened by what they were capable of, and have made a conscious effort to be both moral and conservative – ie. slow to change.

In the U.S., the individual may prevail, but in German politics it is the system that rules. This means that the circumstances in Washington change more starkly depending on who is in office. The governing system in Germany is more stable, uniform and enduring.

Before Trump, America and Germany both had mostly centre-right governments and were both run by competent career politicians. However, though the author doesn’t say so, Trump did have precursors in Ronald Regan and George W Bush. Regan was best known for being an actor and Dubya was a cipher. Both were fronts for competent, if seriously right wing cabinets. (It is my theory that much of the present incivility in politics arises from right wing anger at and retaliation for the general derision that Dubya attracted). The Der Spiegel essay attempts to analyse what it is about America that made Trump possible, and I will attempt to do the same for Australia.

Dreams: In Hollywood anything is possible and Regan, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Trump himself, best known to Americans as a reality tv star, demonstrate that there is only a low bar to crossing over into ‘real life’. Germans take themselves more seriously.

Salvation: Right back to the Mayflower Americans have believed that the One will come, to save them. Hitler makes this belief impossible for modern Germans.

Freaks: The US primaries offer aspiring politicians the chance to appeal direct to the public; an opportunity that does not exist to the same extent in the party systems of Germany and Australia.

Media: There is no German equivalent to Fox News, not even the right wing Axel Springer Group which is constrained by its constitution. Australia’s nearest equivalent is the poorly watched Sky TV and the (Murdoch owned) tabloid newspapers. This difference may decline in importance as consumers follow more targeted news sources on the internet.

Business: Germans see themselves as engineers, Americans as entrepreneurs. Trump the property speculator would not be so admired in Germany. In Australia? – I give you Alan Bond.

Change: The US four year cycle offers opportunities for radical discontinuities in policy. Germans prize continuity. The Australian system, which is much closer to the German than the US, nevertheless has the American tendency for severe directional changes, eg. from Whitlam to Fraser or from Rudd to Abbott, which implies that the difference is cultural rather than systemic.

Class: Germany does not have the enormous divide between liberal, educated, metropolitan elites and the red-necks of the mid-west and the south which characterises the US. Red necks have more opportunities to influence policy in America (and Australia) than they do in Germany. The author does not discuss the significant underclasses in both countries.

Egotism: America believes that it has a duty to lead the world. Americans react inconsistently when their leadership is challenged. Germany also has a leadership role, but its history leads it to work through consensus.

Morality: Americans are moralistic but Germans are moral, arising of course out of their guilt for the Holocaust, and demonstrated most recently in their enormous intake of refugees.

Dynamism: The Americans have a huge appetite for reinvention which the Germans lack and which the author regrets: “our nation of splendorous boredom isn’t particularly well-equipped for the future.”

This is an interesting essay. The author investigates how the way Americans and Germans see themselves influences the sort of government they choose, though without really addressing the issue of cowboys vs (ex-) soldiers. As for Australia – I would say our stolid, suburban middle classes have far more influence than any image of ourselves as independent, larrikin bushmen, and that the outliers – Latham, Abbott – thrown up from time to time by our party system are evidence of the influence of extremists within the factions, rather than of weirdness in the electorate.

So, are we as equally likely as the Americans to elect a Trump? Of course the answer is Yes. Leaving aside Pauline Hanson who is only a minor irritant despite often being mentioned in this context, and taking into account the differences in our political systems, there is no doubt that the 2013 election of a leadership team headed by Tony Abbott and containing Barnaby Joyce, Joe Hockey, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison, Kevin Andrews, George Brandis … contained all the elements – narcissism, clownishness and incompetence – to qualify.

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photo Independent Australia (here)

Dirk Kurbjuweit, A Tale of Two Countries: Why there won’t be a German Trump, Der Spiegel Online, 23 Aug. 2017

The World Today, ABC, Mon. 28 Aug. 2017, contained an interview with the editor of Der Spiegel re this essay (here)

 

 

Monday Musings

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Melbourne

Yes I know it’s Tuesday already (here at Melbourne Airport anyway), but I’m not running late, Sue at Whispering Gums was kind enough to ask me to do a guest post on the subject of men writing biographies of Australian women writers and she put it up yesterday as this week’s Monday Musing. So here it is.

And as a bonus, Grab the Lapels recently reviewed Sarah Anderson’s book Big Mushy Happy Lump and included a link to Sarah’s Scribbles – here‘s one we can all identify with.

I’ve been on holidays (again!) spending a week in Melbourne with my son, who stayed behind when the rest of us moved to Perth, and my old mum. Had some great meals, caught up with old girlfriends, blogging friends and rellos, saw a photography exhibition in Monash – Under the sun, Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker – and joined the crowds for van Gogh at the NGV.

Friday’s post is already ‘in the can’, just as well, as I’m told my truck is loaded and I have three trailers to take up north as soon as the plane lands. Wouldn’t have it any other way!

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Van Gogh, NGV

Housekeeping

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The author when young

Laws governing truck driving in Western Australia allow us to work 17 hours per day – 15 hours driving, 2 hours breaks – up to 12 days a fortnight, and when we’re busy that’s what we work. I’m not complaining, I’m 66 now and seven hours mandated sleep per night suits me fine. The problem is, last year we weren’t busy and I got in the habit of writing and posting a couple of thousand words every week.

Since I got back from holidays I have been busy and today, for the first time in a while, I found myself with nothing ready to publish. I think that is going to happen more often. At the moment I have the last Brent of Bin Bin novel, Back to Bool Bool read, with lots of notes and ready in my mind to write up. I’ll probably get it done today for posting next Tuesday, and the way things go, I could easily get tomorrow off as well and another post knocked up, and be temporarily back on track for two posts a week. As x-Mrs Legend texted recently “It’s always a flood or a droubt with you” (she uses the same spell “checker” as Sue Whispering Gums).

I’m not just getting behind with my writing, I’m getting behind with my reading. In Seasons Greeting 2016 I listed half a dozen new books I had on my shelves waiting to be reviewed. They’re still there. I mostly carry old books around with me and my next review will be Gerald Murnane’s Landscape with Landscape, I’m about half way through and so far I’m loving it.

While I’m working, my best reading time is if I’m stuck in a queue waiting to load, and while I’m unloading (I’m a tanker driver and the unloading largely does itself) but  my first priority – since I ditched newspapers – is emails and news, generally Crikey, then books, though the last two ABRs are also sitting in the truck unread.

Luckily I get to spend a lot of that 15 hours a day driving time listening to audio books. And I’ve joined a new library, Vic Park. So this week I’ve listened to Mr Darcy’s Daughters (a romp, though I don’t believe Elizabeth would have let her daughters get that wild), Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, Jo Nesbo’s The Son (a Norwegian thriller), and I’m currently a few chapters into Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother, which I plan to review.

Over the rest of the year I’ll get to those six books at the head of the ‘new book’ TBR and to which I have added The Museum of Modern Love and Bloodlines; I’ll press on with Miles Franklin – there’s Old Blastus, All That Swagger and Joseph Furphy to go (and I’ve never directly reviewed My Brilliant Career); there’s new and secondhand books which will leap out and bite me – I bought half a dozen oldish Australians from Save the Children this morning; and there’s libraries full of audio books.

So, I’m sorry to let you down today, I’m sorry to let me down, I enjoy what I’m doing here but unfortunately not driving is not an option. Not yet anyhow.

 

Triple Choice Tuesday (and other stuff)

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My 85 yo mum is finally moving from the family home to a retirement village a couple of suburbs away in eastern suburbs Melbourne, so I spent last week over there helping her to come to grips with moving – it’s her 12th or 13th move but the first one without dad – and packing up dad’s books. I now have a (physical) TBR which I will never finish, an astonishing number of books about Australia in WWI, a lot of books in average condition which my grandfathers had been given in their schooldays, and a small number of books dating back to the C18th.

Other online friends have been doing it hard in similar situations recently, but my father had a ‘welcome’ death a couple of years ago after being almost completely paralyzed by a stroke 18 months earlier, following 25 years of active retirement on a good income and surrounded by grandchildren. He was very protective of his books and this was the first time I had set hands on all but a few of them. I will probably post more when the boxes arrive here and I start opening them, but for instance I am now the proud owner of a very early (1930s) Mickey Mouse which he had as a child and which I had never seen before. And in case you’re worrying on her behalf, mum has three other sons nearer-by to help on moving day and, to the extent their wives allow, to rescue other family treasures which might else be lost through this necessary downsizing.

Being in Melbourne meant I also got to catch up with Michelle from Adventures in Biography whose (first) book is nearly done, and with Lisa (ANZLL) and spouse, for the first time, for a pleasant lunch and to exchange books. We may have set each other a challenge as she is expecting me to find the good in David Ireland’s recent The World Repair Video Game and I have presented her with Joseph Furphy’s Rigby’s Romance which was excised from the more famous Such is Life.

All this activity – and of course I had a son and plenty of friends to lunch with as well – meant that I got behind in my writing. And work didn’t help by expecting me to run up to Kalgoorlie almost as soon as my plane landed back in Perth. However, I have done the reading for my next couple of posts – a Kim Scott, and a really obscure Catherine Helen Spence I came across in Yarra Cottage Books, Warrandyte – and I thought today I would use up the ‘offcuts’ of a post which I did for Reading Matters after Kim, a London-based Australian who has been blogging forever, wrote asking me to contribute to her on-going series, Triple Choice Tuesday.

Her letter asked for a short personal history plus “three books under the following categories, and explain why you’ve chosen them”:  

A favourite book
A book that changed your world
A book that deserves a wider audience.

I thought that would all be pretty easy and knocked out an answer on the evening of the day she wrote. In fact, my only problem was that I was spoiled for choice. From when I was little, I had my own bookcase, and every book had its place on the shelves. I could lie in bed and recognise each book and recall the story it told. So I had lots of favourite books, and I have continued adding to them in the fifty years since, so that they threaten to overwhelm my whole apartment, not just my bedroom.

Even now, revising this before pressing Publish, I realise I completely failed to consider another long time favourite – one which my father had as a boy also, though I didn’t know it – Kenneth Grahame’s 1895 evocation of a childhood summer, The Golden Age. Anyway, I hung on to my answers for a while and of course ended up rewriting them. Here then are two which ended up on the cutting room floor.

A favourite book: Beau Ideal by PC Wren

Beau Ideal was the first of the Beau Geste trilogy I owned, though I subsequently accumulated a whole shelf of PC Wren novels with their grey cloth covers from second-hand bookshops in the sixties and seventies. Wren’s old fashioned mix of honourable behaviour, British stiff upper lip, militarism and class consciousness obviously had something to say even to me – a draft resister and an anarchist/socialist – but what got me, what gets me every time, is that Beau Ideal is a love story, the story of the hopeless love of a ‘nice American boy’ for Isobel, who is pledged to John Geste, and who for Isobel’s sake must go back into the Sahara to find John who is a prisoner of the French Foreign Legion.

A book that changed my world: The Iron Heel by Jack London.

I was introduced to Fabian socialism by my librarian at Blackburn South High in fourth form (year 10) but a year or so later Nana, my father’s very prim and proper mother, gave me The Iron Heel, thinking no doubt it was another harmless adventure story like London’s White Fang. It is in fact both the first great dystopian novel and a communist analysis of the inevitable end of Capitalist democracy through the rise of the Oligarchy, the Iron Heel, overseeing the destruction of the middle classes and the splitting of the working class into a small, privileged caste of tame-cat unionists and a large underclass of impoverished under-employed (sound familiar!), and so I was converted to revolutionary socialism, which for a while during those Vietnam War years seemed not only logical but achievable.

The novel takes the form of an autobiography written by the wife of the leader of the revolutionaries, recovered and annotated centuries later when the Revolution has finally succeeded and ushered in the Brotherhood of Man. London makes a very unconvincing woman but it’s still an important novel and a “truer prophecy of the future than Brave New World” according to George Orwell.

A book that deserves a wider audience: The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley

I was always going to choose The Pea Pickers which will one day be acknowledged as one of Australia’s four or five great novels.

To see what I did write for Kim, go to Reading Matters (here).

 

PC Wren, Beau Ideal, John Murray, London, 1928
Jack London, The Iron Heel, Penguin Classics, 2006, first published 1908
Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers, Imprint Classics, 1991, first published 1942 (Review)
Miles Franklin, My Career Goes Bung, 1946 (Review)
Catherine Martin, An Australian Girl, 1890 (Review)