This week’s reads (week ending June 11)

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It’s been a sad few weeks here. I ended up abandoning a few things I had started reading as I wasn’t in the right headspace. I also ended up with a bad allergic reaction which kept me to audio books (which slows me down considerably). So I have three titles for you this week.

I really enjoyed Revolution for Dummies. I find it frustrating that we in the west get so little news or savvy political commentary from the east, particularly when something big goes down. Youssef’s account is hardly neutral, but it is both savvy and informative, and well as incredibly funny. Youssef alternates truth bombs with one liners, and reminds us of what free speech actually is. 

Youssef’s documentary Tickling Giants is available on iTunes at the moment.

Ralph Ellison’s classic Invisible Man is gripping, and hard hitting. As an Australian, I can tell you that our Indigenous people only became officially recognised as ‘people’ in 1967 (it’s the 50th anniversary this year) which means there are people not much older than me who remember growing up without rights or simple things like self-determination. Parents of people who are my age were basically slaves. My knowledge of timelines for slavery related events in the US aren’t great, and this depiction of the treatment of black Americans in 1953 broke my heart. Not just because of what it depicted then or the power of the writing, but that this seems just as relevant now as it was 64 years ago. What it wrong with us?



I Contain Multitudes was a fascinating read, but I’m easily suggestible, and my scalp itched the entire time – which makes no sense whatsoever, but there you have it.

This is a look at the importance of bacteria in our lives and in the world around us. Yes, there is such a thing as being too clean, the indoor air is gross (and the best solution to this is to open a window) and fecal matter transplants (now available in a handy poo pill) can save lives. Young looks at a wide range of organisms and I really enjoyed his writing style.

Have an amazing week. Embrace every day.

This Week’s Reads (week ending June 4)

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An interesting look inside the the life of the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia. The content was interesting, but the book itself seemed pretty average. It certainly did convey how completely useless Nicholas was. I listened to this one and it seems that no one cast could satisfactorily pull off a Russian accent. Interesting. (I will confess that I’ve started reading October by China Mieville and this book pales in comparison to Mieville’s masterful prose. *swoon*)

Jodi Taylor tore at my heart with this one. I’m a little sad to have reached the end of this series. I hope there is another in the works!

I’m probably the only person who picked up this book not knowing who Gabourey Sidibe is or having seen any of her work. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Sidibe is smart and hilarious, and articulately discusses being body shamed as a black woman, the issues of food addiction and dealing with depression. Read this!

I spotted this on my library’s overdrive page so snapped it up and inhaled it. As a Triple J listener for many years I’ve been aware of Marieke Hardy’s work as an adult. I hadn’t realised that she was Frank Hardy’s granddaughter (the shock!) Nor did I realise she had graced my TV screen years prior as part of the Henderson Kids cast (damn I loved that show when I was 13). It was very refreshing to read a woman writing about sex and alcohol with no fear of reprisal. I also enjoyed that she gave people she had written about a right of reply and included their emails at the end of their chapters.

Speaking of having your heart ripped out. Eliza Griswold has travelled to Afghanistan to find and translate the poetry of Afghan woman (Landays) into English. Landays are only short – two lines, with the first 9 syllables and the second 22. Griswold includes lots of (heartbreaking) explanatory prose. A lot of her research and meeting with the women had to happen in secret, as poetry is still seen as dishonourable in some areas (it was banned under the Taliban).

This book is short, and I desperately wanted more. But I did feel as though it had thrown me down a rabbit hole of wonders that I hadn’t previously reaslised existed. Read this beautiful book now!
How has your reading week been?

Paul Beatty in Brisbane with Wesley Enoch

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I was bitterly disappointed to read this article about Paul Beatty’s interview with Michael Cathcart at the Sydney Writers Fest. It leaves me cold and embarrassed – how could the festival organisers get it so wrong? How could a middle class white guy be the right person for this interview (especially with some of the lack lustre questions and his use of the n-word?!? Dear white people, check yourselves! That is never ok!)

I was both grateful and excited the week before to have attended an event in Brisbane where Paul Beatty was interviewed by Wesley Enoch. Enoch is a playwright and artistic director. He has worked as the artistic director of the Queensland Theatre Company and is currently the director of the Sydney (Theatre) Festival. He is of Murri descent and is a proud Noonuccal Nuugi man.

I can see why Beatty can be thought of as a “difficult” interview subject. Enoch’s questions were wonderfully open, and gave Beatty lots of room to move with his answers. He answered lots of questions with “I don’t know” or “It’s not for me to say” but then was able to discuss his ideas in a way the audience seemed to enjoy (I know I certainly did) and Enoch was able to bounce off his responses to get the best out of the conversation. 

Beatty spoke about his decision to write at the age of 25, and how he tried to put it off, but eventually he can’t help himself. He said “I write because I can’t fight.” Enoch mentioned that he felt a responsibility to the Aboriginal community and asked Beatty if he felt similarly. Beatty responded that he was a member of a bunch of communities and quoted Kafka: “What do I have in common with the Jews when I have nothing in common with myself.”

It seems more that Beatty doesn’t want to speak for anyone apart from himself. He said that he wasn’t writing to change the world – that was too much. He doesn’t believe that there is anything untouchable. He is not writing to be liked – he hopes people like his work but that is not what makes him create. Beatty mentioned that he had done slam poetry once, but found it off putting. He also mentioned that he feels people pick up books thinking of them as a “black book” or even “the black book” which is not the way he reads (and, I’m inferring, not the way he writes). Beatty revealed that one of his first pieces of fan mail was from a young Vietnamese man about his book The White Boy Shuffle who saw it as just like his own life.

When asked if it was a conscious decision not to name the main character of the Sellout, Beatty said “A little bit” and reflected that he’s not that good coming up with names. He also mentioned that the timeline of the book was unclear as he was wanting to give a sense of “this is how it always is”. 

Enoch asked about the bringing back of slavery and segregation in the book, and the “heresy” that these things could have positive sides. Beatty spoke a little about his own experiences of segregation, and the difference between segregation and self-segregation (ie choosing to live in a community of like people vs not having that choice). Beatty mentioned that he had heard people say that blacks had it better under segregation with their own restaurants and so forth, to which his response was “Really?”  Beatty also talked about the difference between being proud and not being ashamed or embarrassed. Not being ashamed or embarrassed allows you a space in which to be, he said, but pride narrows thinking.

To me, Beatty came across as humble, self deprecating and very real. For me authors are like rock stars are to most people, so I have a bad habit of being both star struck and tongue tied at signings, blurting inanities like “I think you’re amazing” and then being too embarrassed by my stupidity to say anything else. At the book signing afterwards, I found Beatty very easy to talk to, and he took time to chat with everyone in the queue.

I’m so glad that the Brisbane Writers Festival engaged Wesley Enoch for this event. Sydney, have a long hard look at yourselves.

Note: Enoch also mentioned the practice of “blackbirding” that had occurred in Australia’s past. Blackbirding was a practice of white people sailing around the local pacific islands, luring the indigenous people on board through trickery and bringing them back to Queensland to work the sugar cane fields. This occurred from the 1860s through to the early 1900s.  You can find more information here and here


 

What I’ve been Reading – week ending May 28

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I missed posting last week – I was a little preoccupied listening to Paul Beatty talk about his Man Booker prize winning book The Sellout. But I’ll post about that later.

Honourable mentions from last week:



If We Were Villains
has been touted as being similar to the Secret History. It is, insomuch as they are both set in schools and one of the characters dies. But apart from that, not so much. If We Were Villains is an amazing celebration of Shakespeare and his works and is also a look at what can happen when passionate teens end up sucked into a world of make believe. I loved this book – it made my inner Shakespearean nerd very, very happy.


My main criticism for this book is that there just wasn’t enough of it. Edited from her “unruly” PhD, Susan Carland details her examination of feminism within Islam, based on a series of interviews she has conducted with a selection of Muslim women both in Australia and Northern America. Very interesting and well worth your attention.


I had been anticipating this book since hearing Liberty from Book Riot wax lyrical about it last year. And it is totally awesome. Set in the future, humanity has basically sorted out everything. The Thunderhead (what the cloud has morphed into) looks after most of humanity’s needs. Death and illness have been abolished. Everyone has enough to eat. Over population is the only real issue. This is solved by the Scythes – individuals whose job it is to “glean” a specific quota of people each year in order to keep the population manageable. Citra and Rowan are taken as apprentices and must compete against each other to enter Scythedom – and for their lives.


This book was delightful, exquisitely written with some lovely world building. Twylla is poisonous – she is the court executioner and kills with a touch. Everyone in the palace avoids her, including the prince to whom she is betrothed. Until a new guard takes charge of her, and everything changes. Yes, there is the dreaded YA love triangle, but there is so much more going on in the story.


The only Dick I had read up till now was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. This book is so good! It’s gritty and cyberpunky. Originally published in 1969, it’s a little dated (the “future” was 1992, and women are either good girls or femme fatales), but still totally awesome.


You can thank M.L Rio for this one. Et tu Brute?


This story is just adorable. Three best mates head to a con in LA. One is there as a Youtuber and new movie star, and she takes her two geeky besties along for the ride. Jen Wilde gives us, an MC who is both a WOC and bisexual, another MC who is on the autistic spectrum (Aspergers) and has terrible anxiety, and all of the fandom, geeky love you could possibly want. This book gave me all the feels.

What have you been reading?

What I’ve been Reading (W/E May 14)

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Hi everyone, Happy Mother’s Day to you if you are that way inclined!

Here’s a run down of my reading week:


If you haven’t heard of Hidden Figures by now you must have been hiding under a rock. Hidden Figures is the story of some of the black women that worked behind the scenes for NASA, working on the computations that helped get people into space. I appreciate the research that went into the book and it’s wonderful that the stories of these women are coming out, but I think I would have felt more lost understanding exactly what the women did if I hadn’t read Rise of the Rocket Girls a few months ago. Shetterley seems to have focussed more on the women’s family lives and how they coped fitting working and family together than on the amazing work these women did, which I found a bit disappointing.

The last of my Stella shortlist reads, this one was a punch to the gut. Chris and her sister Bella live in a small country town. They have no real family except for each other. After a weekend of no contact, Chris gets a visit from the police that no one wants. They’ve found a body, could she please identify it?

Maguire takes you through the cycles of grief experienced by Chris – the horror of what has been done to her sister, the desire of the media to get a juicy story, the speed of which all of this circulates in a small country town and the pressure that Chris feels. This book is a raw examination of grief and how we live through it. Have the tissues ready.

Jodi Taylor’s St Mary’s series has been my go to read for palate cleansing for a little while. I love the St Mary’s crew and Max in particular. I love the irreverent and very British tone of  Taylor’s writing, and I absolutely love the idea of travelling around through history to see what happened rather than having to rely on inaccurate accounts. This one was lots of fun, as usual. I’m waiting for my library to buy the next one!


I discovered quite by chance that Susan Faludi is out here talking about this book, which is about the journey that started with her estranged father contacting her to let her know that he had undergone gender reassignment surgery and was entering the world as Stefi. 

In the Dark Room is an exploration of identity and how gender, religion and culture make up parts of who we are. Can you tease out one without the others? Faludi seems to have had limited contact with her father over the years (and the book demonstrates why). She describes her journey to get to know her father as a woman as well as from her own changed point of view as an adult. This seems to be further complicated by Stefi’s desire to erase, or at the very least mask, the pieces of the past that she would rather not acknowledge. Stefi also talks about the number of different roles she has willingly played during her life, and her own self awareness of this is fascinating given the context. This is a complicated narrative and a very interesting exploration of identity. I’m really looking forward to seeing Faludi talk to this topic.

In 1845, John Franklin’s expedition to chart the Artic passages, consisting of 2 ships and 129 men, was lost. This is the story of the journey to find the lost ships and determine what happened to the crew. Watson gives a great account of all the missteps taken between the disappearance of the ships and their eventual discovery over a century later. I found his account of Lady Jane very interesting – she sounds like one hell of a women. I was a bit mystified when she was described by Watson as “high strung” almost immediately after a number of details of her adventures through very harsh conditions. (Lady Jane was considered “highly strung” as she was a vocal opponent of the British Navy’s lack of action to find her husband when his ships had gone missing. I wonder how a similarly vocal man would be described in this situation?) What I did enjoy about this book was the inclusion of Inuit oral history about the wreck – it seems that if the Navy had taken this information into consideration that answers would have been found much sooner.

This week I’ve also discovered the Deviant Women podcast. Alicia and Lauren are exploring women who push against the boundaries of society in life and literature. Give them a listen – they are smart and sassy and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the episodes I’ve listened to.

That’s it for this week. What are you reading?

What I’ve Been Reading

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I’m going to try to remedy my lack of posting with some more regular posts summarising what I have been reading. I mightn’t have been writing much, but I’ve been reading a lot – I’ve just ticked off my 100th title for the year so I can at least tell you what I’m powering through. I’ve resisted doing this in the past as I’ve for the most part tried to keep my review posts focussed on one book. But I’m hoping this format will work better for me while I’m still flat out at work and finding less time to post.

The readathon weekend was ‘Stella’ – I managed to get through two titles from the Stella shortlist, the prize winner, and Begin, End, Begin, the #LoveOzYA Anthology.


This is artful book by Heather Rose is about the art of Marina Abramovic, and in particular her performance of “The Artist is Present” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is a book about love, courage and sacrifice. Most of the book is told through the eyes of Arky Levin, a film composer who is going through a bit of a slump in both his career and his personal life. Levin’s wife is very ill and living in a facility. She has banned him from seeing her, and he is not fighting the ban, much to the disappointment and anger of their friends and, more importantly, their daughter.  

I enjoyed the book up to a point, but I became more annoyed the more I sat with the ending. Levin spent most of the book being a dick, and by the end he managed to be not quite such a complete dick. The other thing I was disappointed by was the author’s lack of acknowledgement of the dreadfully racist things that Marina Abramovic has said about the Australian Aboriginal people. It makes me dreadfully disappointed that this book won the Stella award this year. (Thanks to Bookish Bron for the conversation about this one and for reminding me about that last point.)


Georgia Blain’s last novel is beautifully written story of family, love, and how we drive ourselves crazy when we think we can get others to change their true natures when they don’t want to. There’s a lot of sadness in the narrative – with the loss of family due to behaviour, and sickness, and one character’s terminal illness. (make sure you have your tissues ready for the end). The book is made even sadder by Blain’s own death due to a brain tumour in December last year.


I tend to read books pretty quickly, and usually in one sitting. I couldn’t read Maxine Beneba Clarke’s book in one sitting – just the opening left me winded and infinitely sad. The Hate Race is a memoir of racism and it’s effects on Clarke as she grows from childhood into a young woman. This is a difficult read and an excellent description of the effects of racism in the young, and the effects this can have on people throughout their lives. We must do better. This book should be compulsory reading for all Australians.


This anthology is a collection of YA fiction by Aussie writers, and it’s an absolute delight. It made me so happy to read a bunch of stories in the one place that had a cast of diverse characters and great plots. I loved all of the stories in this collection, but a special mention goes to Michael Pryor, whose story about refugees nearly had me in tears. Pryor has essentially written a history lesson about all the shit things Australia has done to refugees over the last 20 years and set it in outer space. I hope lots of our young people read this and learn from our (ongoing) mistakes. 

In the last week I’ve also knocked off James Corden’s memoir May I Have Your Attention Please, which was a great plate cleanser.  I’ve also read White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. 


White Tiger was excellent – the writing style was unique and incredibly descriptive. Adiga succeeds in plunging the reader into the sights, sounds and smells of India. I listened to this one as an audiobook, and I was a little perturbed that the narration was by John Lee, using an accent. I enjoy Lee’s narration, he always does a great job. But there are so many talented Indian narrators, why was there a need for an English guy to do it? Please do better Audible. (This has taught me to check the narrator before purchasing a title, which is not something I’ve done before.)

What are you reading at the moment?

Readathon Weekend!

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Hey folks!

I had a pretty exciting day yesterday – I got to hear the wonderful Magda Szubanski talk at a function and afterwards was able to get my copy of her memoir signed (MAGDA TOUCHED MY BOOK!!!) I took a bunch of notes which I will type up for you soon – she spoke beautifully about diversity.

This weekend the Dewey’s readathon is happening. I have a few things going on, but I’ll be participating when I can. Most excitingly, this weekend is a long weekend in Queensland, so I’ll be able to keep going until it’s all over in the US. (Normally I have to be content to read wrap up posts while I’m at work on Monday.)

I have so much good stuff to read. Like this.

I also have the rest of the Stella’s shortlist that I need to motor through.

Are you participating in Dewey’s? What’s in your stack?