January Reading And A Bit Of Serendipity

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Our Fuller’s Bookshop Book for February is The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. It is a retelling of the Iliad from the point of view of a woman. Our group meets the first Thursday night of February so I will write more about it after we have discussed it.

I recently finished The Arsonist by Chloe Harper. Our group will discuss this book the first week of March. Chloe Harper is an Australian writer who writes about the Black Friday bushfires in Victoria that happened several years ago. Again I will wait until after the group meets to write about it.

I am currently reading our April book, The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins about boys living in a boarding school in England in 1962. I’m not that far into it yet but I feel it might become quite ominous. More on that later.

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In the meantime, I can talk about the recently read The Shepherd’s Hut by Australian writer Tim Winton. I imagine most people who live in Australia who read this blog have read it. I will say I loved it very much and couldn’t put it down. It was a slowly drawn  story of a young man who lives in Western Australia. He had a very abusive father who had abused him for years and it became worse once his mother died of cancer. He often wished his father dead and when he does die in an accident while working on his car in a shed, the boy fears he may be blamed and heads off into the bush and desert of Western Australia.

In my opinion nobody writes about Western Australia better than Tim Winton. You feel the heat, the dust, the young man’s hunger. He comes across an elderly man living in a shack in the desert in the middle of nowhere and the story continues with the development of their relationship, the life and trials that happen upon them.

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My only criticism of the book, which some don’t agree with is I thought Tim Winton wrapped up the ending too quickly. This is a drawn out story that seemed to follow a certain, consistent pace throughout. Then suddenly the end is upon the reader and it seemed to quickly finish. I can’t say more than that as I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone. I will leave it at that for now. I did really enjoy this book though.

The serendipity I refer to is regarding a page I have put in my 2019 journal. I read a lot of book reviews. I get them from my bookshop, other blogger’s posts, the newspaper, everywhere.

I also receive publishers newsletters and magazines and often see older books referred to at times. I often exclaim to myself, “My gosh I have that book on my shelf!” and think I should get it off the shelf and read it so I can then pass it on. So for 2019 as I read reviews and notice books that are named by other bloggers, I will get that book off my shelf and place in a pile to finally have a serious look at it. If I’m not going to read it then maybe it is time to pass it along.

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So far on my journal’s Serendipity page, as I call it, I have Persuasion by Jane Austen. It is one of her books I have seen the film for but never read. So onto the pile it goes and I might finally get to it. As it is early in the year I don’t have any other books listed but I do have books by a couple of authors that have been in the winds of 2019.

I read a blurb in the Weekend Australian just before New Year’s Eve written by Mandy Sayers about her favourite books for 2018. I have a book on the shelf by her so I may grab that one. I have several books on the shelf by Helen Garner unread and I know I must read them. I hear so much about Helen Garner especially from Australian bloggers I follow. So onto the pile they need to go. I can’t think about their latest books while I still have their previous books on the shelf.snip20190124_6

February will have me listening to audible books, mainly in the car. I’m currently listening to Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick who is a New York City writer I love. I heard her speak at the Sydney Writer’s festival a few years ago and enjoyed her very much. Most of her books are memoirs of her life growing up in a tenement building of 20 apartments in the Bronx. Some of her books are of her life later in life. She is close to me in age so has lived quite a bit of life.

I love tales that take place in Brooklyn or the Bronx especially in the 1950s and 60s. She deals with a very exasperating mother which I find interesting and I feel as though I am on the streets of New York with her, trying to figure out life. Fierce Attachments has most of the book taking place in her first 25 years. They live in an apartment building that has 20 apartments in it and the interaction between the neighbours and families really draw me in. I love the New York Jewish phrases and sometimes hysteria as many of the women deal with their husbands and children.snip20190124_4

February is going to be a very busy month for us but I’ll write more about that in a couple of days. I’m trying to finish off books in January because I’m not sure I’ll get a lot of reading completed in February.

More on that later. Until then, I leave you…

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Starting the Year with the Australian Female Author- Lily Brett

Snip20190101_3I don’t know how many of you have read Lily Brett’s books but I, for one, love this author. I met her several years ago when she was in Hobart for the book launch of Lola Bensky, I believe it was. Lily Brett was raised in Melbourne to Jewish parents that survived life in Auschwitz during World War II.  However her grandparents on both sides and many aunts and uncles did not survive. She has written quite a bit about being the child of Holocaust survivors over her writing career and the common traits that seem to follow these children.

When I think of having parents who survived the death camps of WWII, I often think you could never complain to them about anything.  Being bored during the school holidays or not being able to buy that latest dress just wouldn’t hold any weight at all. From what I have read there is also quite a bit of guilt children of surviving parents face due to constantly thinking about what happened to them.

Her parents raised her to believe there was no God. I guess if one witnessed what they did during the death camps of World War II, one would certainly be inclined to being atheistic.  Why would a merciful God allow this to happen?  But before anyone who has faith bombards me with an argument, this is not what this post is about.

Lily Brett moved to New York City more than 25 years ago with her second husband, an Australian painter, David Rankin and they have three children. She now considers herself as much a New Yorker as an Australian.  I just finished her book Only in New York.  It is a book filled with anecdotes divided into chapters of her experiences and thoughts about New York. It is a very funny book.

I have always loved books about New York City. However, for as much travelling as I have done in this word, touring 6 continents, I have yet to visit New York City. I know, I know.  When I was a preteen I read the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I then went on to read everything Betty Smith ever wrote, though I forget all the titles now.

That book was the first book that put me in Brooklyn and allowed me to explore New York from that perspective.  I loved it. After that I would read anything I could about New York City.  I have a vision of what old New York City is like. The shops, the multi-cultural food, the quirkiness of the people, all the policemen named Patrick O’Mallory or something similar and the smells of the subway. I also love bookshop stories of New York.  I often think if I actually visited the city, all my images I carry in my head would be ruined. I’d probably see a lot of chain stores and foul weather. Or heat. Terrible, penetrating heat.  I often prefer my visions of what I think New York city is. I may still get there one day, but I have to admit, I am not in a hurry.

Snip20190101_2Lily lives in Manhattan in a lovely apartment filled with ‘stuff’. She talks about all of it. She talks of her daily walks, her husband who loves her and tolerates her eccentricities. Her father lives there. He is in his 90’s at the time this book was written and very much alive. She talks of her parents often and how she misses her mother. She talks about Jewish life and the traits of such, especially as it relates to life in New York City.

She writes about people who hold grudges, cafes, fashion she enjoys, New York psychics  and the various eccentric people she encounters.  There is a funny chapter about her lack of understanding of the animal world. I laughed out loud when she talked about camels and what their humps are for. I won’t spoil this with the actual paragraph, but I did reread it a couple of times so I could enjoy the laugh.

Lily Brett has a long list of memoirs and novels she has written. Mr. Penguin enjoyed two of her novels, Between Mexico and Poland as well as Too Many Men.  They linger on my shelves waiting for my turn to read them.  I remember loving her book Lola Bensky, the part fictional, part true experiences of being in her late teens following the music scene in England working as a junior journalist. She has met many rock stars of the time and her anecdotes of that time were both really interesting to someone of my generation and hilarious. I also enjoyed another book of her memoirs by chapters, You Gotta Have Balls.Snip20190101_4

Only in New York reminded me a great deal of the book Helene Hanff wrote of her daily life in New York City in Apple of my Eye.  That was a fun book to read but Lily’s is much funnier. She has a very wry sense of humour that sometimes drips with sarcasm as she describes daily life in such a large, populated city in the Jewish community.

If you haven’t tried her books I think you might consider her for 2019. If you have, I’d love to know what you thought of the books you read.

Here you will find the Wikipedia story of her life and books written. 

Snip20180527_1Lily Brett- Only in New York. Published in 2014

…regards, some girl with words

Snip20181227_1This tragic story happened in Hobart in 2005.  Elizabeth Ryan’s daughter, Genevieve was born in 1984. She died in 2005.

She came to Tasmania to attend the University of Tasmania.  She was a very bright, intelligent girl who had her entire life ahead of her and lived it enthusiastically. She loved words. She was a passionate writer. She loved nature.  She loved everything around her and she had an eye for observation that most people don’t seem to bother with.

One lovely Tasmanian day, Genevieve took a bushwalk on the Mt Wellington tracks.  People who don’t live here don’t always understand the life of Mt. Wellington. Indigenous people understood it for centuries. Mt Wellington has many stories. Many of them quite haunting tales of those who went missing and were never found again. Although the mountain is near the city, it has remote sections on it that need to be respected.

When Genevieve came upon a waterfall, she stood atop of it, marvelling at everything one marvels at when visiting a beautiful waterfall. She slipped and fell to her death.  When she failed to return to the share house she lived in she was reported missing.  Her friends, Nick and Ben found her body. Gen had mentioned she was going to walk to a waterfall several days earlier.

“She was lying peacefully on her back, naked, her arms above her head. She had been there for two nights. Nick (her friend), said that from up above, from where Gen had fallen, she looked like water- merging into the waterfall. A huge tiger snake, curled on the rock beside her, slithered away as Ben approached. ” (page 11)

Good Reads describes this book as:

Articulate, perceptive, sensitive, quirky, and often hauntingly beautiful, Genevieve Ryan’s writing explores the innermost experiences of a young woman growing up in an exhilarating and confusing world. Her journey through the twenty years of her short life is enriched by a passion for philosophy, literature, politics and art.

In this book, her mother, Elizabeth has drawn together a collection of Genevieve’s writings. The collection presents a delightful picture of a much-loved daughter. More importantly, it presents a message to a wider world – a message that growth and beauty are to be found in the deep, often painful search for inner meaning.

This is a book that will motivate everyone who feels called to write. People from fifteen to ninety-five will be inspired and charmed by the remarkable insights of an extraordinary young woman. Elizabeth Ryan grew up in Melbourne where she taught for many years before meeting Peter and having four daughters. With her family, she travelled and lived in Tumut in the Snowy Mountains, Townsville in North Queensland and Lismore in Northern New South Wales.

During these years she pursued a range of occupations. She has published in a number of educational journals and now works in Research Services at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne.

Daughter Genevieve was a wonderful writer. She wrote all the time. I do mean, all…the…time.  When working at the kiosk at the cricket once, she would write thoughts and little poems on brown paper bags when they weren’t busy.

She wrote in cafes all of the time. She mostly wrote journal entires, poetry and observations of people, places and events around her.

This book, written by her mother, Elizabeth shares Gen’s story of her life. She grew up on mainland Australia in several places. She wasn’t a Tasmanian.  She came here specifically to attend university.

Her writing is lovely. It’s intelligent and intuitive.  It’s one of those stories one reads about a person’s life that makes you wonder why the intelligent, beautiful people, who contribute to the world, have a life cut short and the mean, nasty people that only do harm live to be old.  In fact, her mother mentions this thought when she goes to the police station after Gen’s body has been found.  They need to identify her body. While there, a young man is dragged into the station, hate filling his eyes.  Gen’s mother wonders why there is such a difference between her daughter’s short life and this young man, who appears to not appreciate anything about life at that moment.  Who knows his story.

My thoughts-

I enjoyed meeting this young woman. Though I did get bogged down in the mother’s grief. Of course, anyone would. I focused on the writings of this talented young woman as that was what seemed important to me.  I didn’t know Gen but I know I would loved to have met her.  I enjoy hearing about talented young people who do wonderful things such as paint, write, succeed at sport.  This woman had her entire life ahead of her and it is to her mother’s credit to record her story and include so much of what she wrote.Snip20181227_2

I will include a sample below.

Cars Are My Soundtrack

I’ve been given life

And I choose to take it in the form of

Ink-water and touch

Writing, tears and human inter-action

My head is beating with the rhythm of necessity

My face is flushed, hot, burning

My heart is doing vigorous exercise

Am I ok? I have no idea

Cars are my soundtrack

Other people my plot.

Sometimes I think if the credits rolled at the end of my life- I might be a stunt double

Or a cameo

I feel like, in cutting the unnecessary fat away from my life, I’ve just chopped 

off a large portion of the actual meat, a large part of my essentials.

So I’m bleeding

I feel like I need a teacher

But can’t find anything that helps me, in books, music or people

I can’t open up to religion

I’m worried that I’ll be stagnant forever

 

(written 2002 in Melbourne before she entered Uni.)

I still have a couple of chapters at the end of this book to finish so I will stretch it out until the first of January so I could it on the list for 2019.  It will be the first Australian book, by an Australian woman writer for the year. Snip20181102_18

 

Alannah Hill – Aussie Author

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The Book Cover

About three weeks ago a friend and I attended a book event at Fuller’s bookshop in Hobart.  The blurb about this interesting Tasmanian lady sounded very interesting in the advertisements. About 250 other people agreed with that thought and the event was packed to the gills with people wanting to hear her story.

Alannah spent her childhood in a very rural area of Southern Tasmania.  She talked of her childhood which was positively gruesome with mental and substance abuse by her parents.  She grew up and left home in her teens to escape parents who really didn’t like children at all but had five of them.  Their abuse consisted mainly of severe denigration of everything they aspired to do.  Alannah lived in a fantasy world and who wouldn’t in this situation.  She began designing clothes and became one of Australia’s leading fashion designers based in Melbourne.  She had multiple stores and was very successful, a feat that was never acknowledged by her parents, especially her mother.

She loved dressing up in quite outrageous clothes and her tastes reflected this in her designs. Her designs were trailblazing and instantly recognisable and became very iconic.

After 18 years of partnership with Factory X she released a statement that she was leaving her role as Creative Director and Founder of the Alannah Hill brand.  She stated in her talk that her own brand name of Alannah Hill was taken from her and from then forward she could not sell clothes under her own name as it was copyrighted elsewhere.  There is obviously quite a bit of bitterness about the whole situation.  However the name still exists in the fashion world. If one buys an Alannah Hill design now it has nothing to do with Ms. Hill.  She has been unable to get her brand name back under her control.

After eighteen years of partnership with Factory X Alannah released a statement informing her many loyal fans that she was leaving her role as Creative Director/Founder of Alannah Hill. The shock of Alannah’s departure from her own label captured the public and the media’s imagination. Alannah has had no creative input into the Brand Alannah Hill since 2013. Factory X continue to run the chain of stores named after her.

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Photo by PSParks taken at Fuller’s Book Shop Hobart.

In 2015 she launched a new fashion brand Louise Love online. It was retailed exclusively through the David Jones Department store.  In 2016 she closed her online store to recover from a melanoma cancer she was dealing with and decided to write her memoir.

Butterfly On A Pin is the book that has been published and what a ride it is going to be.  She details her childhood, her rise in the fashion business. The betrayal she felt of losing her name/identity in her business must certainly be included.

It has been described by the publishers as a “shocking and exhilarating memoir” describing her transformation from a joyless and abused childhood to a dream come true career peak of love, loss and reinvention. Publishers are Hardie Grant, 2018.

I really enjoyed hearing her discuss her life and success.  She did a wonderful job of impersonating her mother, using a very different voice from her own. One tale she told was when she opened her brand on Fifth Ave, New York and rang her mother to tell her. Her mother was not impressed and could only reply, “Why aren’t you good enough for First Ave?”  The audience had quite a laugh.  Alannah was wildly dressed and more actor than detailer of a depressing childhood.  I think some may have found her confrontational to a degree and thought, “This woman is wacky.”  I loved her and enjoyed all of her stories.

My friend and I did not stay around as the line for the book signing went around the store more than once. I bought the book later in the week and have added it to my TBR pile.Snip20180527_1

We were hungry and disappeared into a wonderful Thai restaurant/takeaway around the corner where we enjoyed hot food on a chilly night.

The event was fun and we look forward to more events over the upcoming dark evenings of winter.

 

Australian Women’s Author- 1800’s

Snip20180201_4Excerpt from Australian Dictionary of Biography:

Mary Louisa (Mollie) Skinner (1876-1955), nurse and writer, was born in Perth on 19 September 1876, second child of James Tierney Skinner, army officer, and his wife Jessie Rose Ellen, daughter of George Walpole Leake. The family moved to England and Ireland in 1878 and at 9 Mollie was sent to an academy for young ladies in Edinburgh. A keen student and voracious reader, she had to abandon formal education in 1887 because of an ulcerated cornea. She spent so much time during the next five years in England in a darkened room with her burning eyes bandaged that she thought of herself as the fifth sparrow (Luke 12:6)—’a poor, befeathered, blinded little bird yet still having joyful life, ability to fly, to sing, to preen, to pick up crumbs and drink and to find fellowship with my kind’.

After painful cauterization partially restored her sight, Miss Skinner began to write poems and stories; she also learned singing and cookery. Later she trained as a nurse at the Evelina Hospital for Children, London, and at the Metropolitan Convalescent Home for Children; she recognized within herself an intuitive power, or sixth sense.

Unlike her mother, Mollie was homely: short and sturdy, with thick, dark hair and smoke-blue eyes. She wore sensible clothing and low-heeled shoes. She was intelligent, perceptive and practical, her mind ‘a delight of unexpected treasures among a conglomeration of serviceable items and irrelevant bric-a-brac’. Born with a cleft lip and threatened by blindness, she avoided marriage but found single life hard. She earned her living as a nurse, and wrote for pleasure and money. Both callings were considered ‘common’ by her family.

Continue reading her bio here if interested.

Snip20180201_5This last week the card drawn for the Deal Me In Challenge was the Ace of Spades. The story was a very short story called The Hand and it was written by M L Skinner in 1876. It was a simple tale of a few nurses working in a shed of a hospital in Western Australia one night. The night is dark and one of the nurses walks into a room where something seizes her ankle in a firm grip. She has no idea what has hold of her and of course screams.  When another runs into the room holding a lantern, which of course gets blown out and needs to be relit, it turns out the ‘grip’ is caused by a hand.  A straggler had become lost in the heat, wandered about and in a delirium ended up collapsed in the hospital. The hospital was shaped like the letter L and the back side of it was only under cover, not completely enclosed.  The story, in my opinion was very weak and I am still not sure what its meaning was. Perhaps to show the conditions in this building of which they worked? I have no idea. I would be surprised if this was Ms Skinner’s finest work. I must admit though that it did hold my attention in its sparse four pages.  Maybe it is more about defining a moment in the late 1800’s in rural Western Australia and I did get a feel for the night. A sort of memoir (if it was a true account which kind of felt like it.)

The descriptions were good and I could feel the heat and the dark and see the shaded light caused only by the lanterns available.

I was running behind in the Deal Me In Challenge with getting this story read. On Tuesday, the day I wanted it finished by, I still had not completed it. I had an eye surgeon’s appointment (just a check-up) and thought, “Right! I always need to wait while I get shuttled around in this busy practice and wait for my eyes to dilate. I’ll read it then.”  I looked forward to some forced reading time. I found a quiet area of the waiting room. Opened my book and began the first paragraph. I felt a small wave of peace.  At which time another lady sat beside me and I knew I couldn’t hide from as our arms were practically touching. She is a member of a group I belong to. Of course it would be “HER”. The most talkative, chatty bunch of the entire group and down she sat with a big smile on her face at seeing someone she knew beside her.  The story of my life.  Luckily the story was so short and as her number was called I too got  moved to another area of the practice and managed to finish the story while the photos of my eye were developed.  That is life in Tasmania. You can’t go anywhere without bumping into someone you know.  We are known for it.  Time to draw another card. (In silence, I hope.)Snip20160609_6