Robert Dessaix- Part 2 (Books of)

The week before last I went to an author interview in the city. I posted up Part I and said I would post up the main books of Mr. Dessaix this week. They have been reissued, as some were out of print, by Xoum Publishing.  You can view Part I here.

Be sure to notice the flashy new covers. I quite like them.

When we talk of Robert Dessaix we most commonly think five main novels he wrote. Most are autobiographical or linked to history. In the talk I attended he talked briefly to each one. There are other books one can read that are not mentioned below. I thought I would give you a brief explanation of what he said as he referred to them.


My Mother’s Disgrace-  This is  his most autobiographical book. He talks about growing up in Sydney to adoptive parents. He discusses the relationship he found later on to his biological mother. The difficulties of coming out ‘gay’ during that time period and his family’s reaction to it.


Night Letters – In this novel he writes of his visit to Venice, Italy. He is coming to terms with his recent diagnosis of HIV. The books discusses much history of Venice and how he incorporates his thoughts of his illness into this holiday destination. He writes in his hotel room every night as he comes to terms with where his life is heading.

He mentioned the first two books are often taught in the school curriculums. He told a funny story of a Marist College in New South Wales where these books were on the reading curriculum. He asked the representative at the school how does a book with the content of homosexuality and AIDS make it onto a curriculum in a Marist school? The reply was, “The Brothers don’t know what they are about.”   (More audience laughter)


Corfu – He mentioned he likes this book quite a bit more and thought it a good starting point for those who haven’t read him. Although he stated the critics didn’t seem to appreciate it much and he will always remember some of the cutting remarks he read. He begins to explore in more depth the ordinariness of people around him. He decides what is important to observe whilst travelling. He ties that in with what he also feels about himself.  He discusses how intimacy in all its different forms makes up your life.


Twilight of Love: Travels With Turgenev – This is a non fictional account of his love for Russian literature. He attended Moscow University and taught Russian language. His favourite was Turgenev. He decided to learn more about him and visited his homes in Germany, France and Russia. He was interested in his love life around the married opera singer Pauline Viardot and the triangle of love she lived in. There are themes of love, sex, theology and eventually death. I have read it and think it a book one reads once without asking questions and then needs a re-read to consolidate all that is in it. This is especially true if one is not familiar with Russian literature.


Arabesque – This book was not discussed in quite the detail as the others as we only had one hour and then questions. I have taken the synopsis from Amazon below:

One Sunday afternoon in a secluded valley in Normandy, Robert Dessaix chanced upon the castle where the famous French writer Andre Gide spent his childhood. Recalling the excitement Robert felt when he first read Gide as a teenager, he set off to recapture what it was that once drew him so strongly to this enigmatic figure. On a magic carpet ride from Lisbon to the edge of the Sahara, from Paris to the south of France and Algiers, Robert takes us to the places where the Nobel Prize-winning author, in ways still scandalous to modern sensibilities, lived out his unconventional ideas about love, marriage, sexuality and religion. Featuring meditations and conversations with fellow travellers on such diverse subjects as why we travel, growing old, illicit passions, and the essence of Protestantism – and illustrated with over 100 stunning illustrations and photos – Arabesques is Robert Dessaix and travel memoir at their absolute finest.

He did go on to talk about the different selves people seem to live in. He believes everyone has more than one self and if you live in a small town/city sometimes it is hard to live out all those selves. He enjoys travelling because he can let some of his other selves come to the fore. Being gay and a well known writer he made a funny remark, “How does anyone have an affair in Hobart?”  A woman from the audience called out, “Get a different car!”  The room erupted into laughter.

We covered a great deal of Dessaix territory in this single hour at the bookshop. I have read his books, My Mother’s Disgrace; Night Letters and Twilight of Love. I have Arabesque and Corfu sitting on the shelf.  I think sometime I will have to have a Dessaix month and reread the books I have read as it has been a long time, and get into


the ones I haven’t. I feel I have a better understanding of what he is saying.

It certainly was an evening of enjoyment and our heads swirled afterwards with


so many topics.







The Reissue of Robert Dessaix’s Books (Part I)

Snip20170717_3I had the pleasure of visiting Fuller’s Book Shop the other evening and hearing an interview with author Robert Dessaix. The shop was packed with people. This Hobartian (moving here from Melbourne) author is a very popular man here it seems. I have always loved his work. Adam Ouston is a Fuller’s employee and is currently working on a PhD about Robert Dessaix’s work and the rapport between the two of them was entertaining. They have obviously spent a great deal of time together.

Mr. Dessaix began his talk discussing writing for the ordinary person. He said it is relatively easy to write about famous people such as (pause…..)  Napoleon Bonaparte but it is to ordinary people he shares his writing.   He has always appeared to me a man who stops and thinks about things. I have seen him at a social gathering as he stood in a large backyard alone staring into the valley below.   His mind never shuts off. His past books have taken place in Europe and Australia but he is now more connected to India which he visits regularly in the Tasmanian winters. He stated the Indians seem to dance, sing, celebrate and not spend a lot of time talking about the truth of their religious teachings. They appear to treat religion as a form of play rather than always searching for the truths of it.  They simply live. The Europeans he mentioned,  write a lot about mortality. Always trying to verify their teachings especially in religion. What really is true, what is not. The Indians simply believe.

Referring to travel he said that if  home life is very good (he described ‘home’ as being anywhere his partner Peter Timms and his dog are) then travel is good. I think it is knowing you can experience the world yet look forward to coming back.   He stated that when one travels one must ‘zig-zag’. If you go through your travels, as well as life in a straight line you will hit a wall and die.  It is better to ‘zig-zag and see what you find. Who do you meet, what do you see, what do you learn?

In his earlier career he hosted the Book Show on Radio National, ABC. He said when he was first employed his supervisor told him ‘don’t talk to Australia’ but rather talk ‘to the individuals’ listening in radio land. He believes that he writes to the individual, not to the amassed crowds.

He was diagnosed with HIV two decades ago and was told by a doctor he probably wouldn’t live beyond another five years. With the advances in medical research he continues to thrive in 2017. He then had a significant heart attack. These events changed him greatly. He has defined his ‘world’ of life. This includes travel, home and books. Outside of this he largely leaves  life events to others. I asked him afterwards as he is such a thinker and analyst how does he resolve the issues of the depressing political events in his mind. He said he follows politics but then lets go of it.  He leaves it to others who know it better than he does . “There are people out there who know a lot about politics and I leave it to them.”  Maybe I will take up this mode of thinking. I tend to dwell on it at times, become depressed and of course it gets me nowhere. I am still thinking about this.

I particularly enjoyed his comments, “Everyone lives in a splodge….(he pauses for thought, then again…) Everyone lives in a splodge.  Enjoy the splodge you are in.” (Laughter from the audience.)

The interviewer, Adam, was responsible for helping get his out of print books reissued. He noticed the earlier ones weren’t being published anymore and he wanted that changed. In working with Xoum publishers the first five major works of Dessaix have now been reissued with splashy new covers within the last month.

PreppyIn the next post I will share with you his five major books with a blurb of how he described each of them.

I was reminded how much fun it is to listen to an author talk about his/her writing. I never leave without a new idea to think about or some insight into their life. It is interesting to see how those thoughts transfer into books.  It is also fun to share thoughts and laughter with others in the room who are all interested in the same things.

Winter Weekend

Dog Beach  Sunny and 8 degrees C (46.9 F)

Where else can a person with two happy dogs go to the beach in winter?  We just had a couple of sunny days and I decided to take the dogs to the beach. They have been pretty goofy and needed a good run.  So off we went. They love a day at the beach with a side trip to Mc Donalds to share a few fries afterwards. They only get three each.

What else happened over the weekend? Well, I am almost finished with part II of War and Peace. It will be a long haul but I am enjoying it. The narrator of the book is very good speaking several voices in various tones. It must be a job to read this book out loud perfectly.  He does an excellent job and I keep up okay with the kindle version.

I haven’t started reading anything else yet but will do. I can’t just have a life of W and P.

We did get to see the film Kedi about the street cats in Istanbul.  It is a lovely film. The photography was excellent and much of Istanbul was shown from various angles. The personalities of the cats was caught on film and we enjoyed getting to meet them.

The week before us will see the play The God of Carnage on Wednesday. I have no idea what it is about.

I am in this shop so much that the owner calls out to me, “See you tomorrow” when I leave. I can’t wait for the 100th year anniversary in three years.

On Thursday Robert Dessaix is being interviewed at Fuller’s Book Shop. I will be attending this.


Evidently all of his books are being reissued.  The interview later in the week will see him discussing why he wrote them and other information about them.  I have read several of his books and enjoyed them all. I also ran into him once in the grocery store with his partner Peter Timms and helped them pick out some yoghurt. My claim to fame.

Monica McInerney was at Fullers the other day and the book shop decorated their window with her new book. I was going to see her but then I heard her interviewed on ABC Radio National for an hour so I decided not to go. The authors tend to repeat themselves as they do their book blurbs around the country. I have only read one of her books and I did enjoy it. I would like to read more of her.


Fuller’s Book Shop just won a national award for Best Independent bookshop of Australia beating out contenders in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. Such an honour for them and their manager Catherine Schultz took out the best book seller award nationally. They were stoked as they should be. A trip to Hobart is not complete for the wild and wooly bookish people out there without a visit to Fuller’s. They have a lovely cafe too.

She truly is the best book seller of the year. Well done Catherine.

I guess that wraps up the weekend for another week. I’ll be back before long. In the meantime enjoy the Kingston Dog Winter Beach photos. (There aren’t many.)

46 degrees F today  :  8 degrees C
We don’t need to worry about snakes in the winter.


They love this place . (excuse the blur, they don’t hold still for long)
Winter haircut brings on winter clothes.


coffee shop penguin
Stay Warm



Time for a Catch UP


This week has been pretty busy. Our Play Reading class on Tuesday continued with our Oscar Wilde theme. Not having been exposed to a lot of his work I have been enjoying it. We finished the play The Importance of Being Ernest which we all enjoyed. Then we watched the DVD of the play. It has so much humour in it. We are looking at the various types of writing Oscar Wilde produced. Serious, biblical, children’s writing to very funny and entertaining. We are really having an Oscar Wilde fest this term. We are currently reading Salome’.



I have begun War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. What a genius this man was.  I downloaded the audible version of it from and as I had a vintage Penguin Classics copy I thought I would read a long. However the two translations were very different with the Penguin Classic being much wordier.


I found the same translator on Kindle books and downloaded that copy for 99cents. Now we are in sync.  I must say I am enjoying it quite a bit.  Although I am only into Part II.  The Napoleonic wars have just begun. I didn’t expect the humour from some of the characters and it hasn’t taken me long to jump into and start caring about everyone. A long ways to go yet.



(Narrated by Frederick Davidson, translated by Constance Garnett)


Wednesday was our writing class. I took the bus into Hobart and walked down to the Tasmanian Writer’s Centre where our weekly (except the third Wed of each month) group is held. It is school holidays, it was sunny and a very pleasant day, though chilly, down on the waterfront. People everywhere.  The best thing about the winters in Hobart is the sun shines almost every day. Really puts a different perspective on things. I noticed the big ice breaker Aurora Australis ship was in port. It is a large orange ship that goes regularly to Antarctica taking people and supplies. It is such an icon on our waterfront and I always enjoy seeing it when it is in port.



I finished the Australian novel of The Golden Child by Wendy James. It is for our end of July book club meeting and I really enjoyed it. I will be looking forward to what the others thought of it. Lots of points for discussion.  I had not heard of it before. It is about the bullying done online in a high school setting between so called friends. The ending really packed a wallop so I will say no more.  It touched on many social issues that young people must deal with today and having read it I am glad there was no social media when I was in high school.  I thought the book was well written, the characters very believable and as I said, I loved the ending. If you get a chance to have a quick read I can certainly recommend it.



The weekend ahead is looking a bit quiet at this point. There is currently a documentary called Kedi, about seven cats in Istanbul whose lives are followed around the city. It is playing at our local State Cinema in Hobart. Having visited Istanbul not that many years ago and seen all the street cats I am looking forward to seeing how this film goes. We ate outdoors at many restaurants while there and often ended up putting half our plate of food on the ground under the table for the cats while the waiters backs were turned. I hope to see this very soon.

The documentary Kedi takes place in Istanbul, Turkey

Winter continues here. I am planning to keep reading War and Peace at least an hour a day until I finish it. So far so good.

How did your week go?  Any good books happening this week?

Until next time, the Penguin and I wish you well. Snip20161117_4

Salinas, California-John Steinbeck Country

20170603_112506When I was overseas visiting family I finally got to Salinas to the John Steinbeck Centre. It isn’t as large as the Jack London Ranch north of San Francisco but it was every bit as interesting. I thought I would share some of the photos.

The museum is set up with little nooks and crannies one can walk through. Each area represents one of his major books. There is information to read about the publishing of the book, a screen with the film version screening with benches to sit and watch parts of them. Photos, quotations and trivia.

House Steinbeck grew up in.

I enjoyed passing through The Grapes of Wrath section, East of Eden and Travels with Charlie. Travels with Charlie and the Grapes of Wrath are my favourite books by Steinbeck. I remember I went on a Steinbeck kick in the early 70’s and read five or six of his books in quick succession. It is time to revisit those books again I think. The museum certainly inspired us to do so.

The gift shop was full of Steinbeck memorabilia but the only thing I bought was the T shirt with a list of all of his books on the back.  Enjoy the photos.



The route he took in his book Travels with Charlie. Charlie was his standard poodle.


This is the pick up truck and camper he lived in during Travels with Charlie. Can you spot the silly Penguin?  He thought we were going to take off in this. (Just a dream)


A picture of Steinbeck with Charlie



We had to eat lunch at the diner next door as there was a sign in the window that said this is where Steinbeck hung out.  I can see him sitting here having a smoke and a coffee. 

What Steinbeck books have you read?  What is your favourite Steinbeck book?

If you get anywhere near Salinas this is a happy way to spend an hour or so.

The Graybar Hotel-Thanks Scribner

Snip20170625_2(This book will be released in early July, 2017)

I was looking at net galley  one day and came across this book. It sounded interesting. I applied to Scribner  Publications and they kindly sent it to me.

I don’t normally read non fiction about prisoners. In fact, I think this was the first time. I found the description of the book appealing and as I looked into it more I see it takes place in the state of Michigan. I grew up in Michigan so am familiar with the various places it mentions. Sitting in Tasmania it seemed quite far away.

The author, Curtis Dawkins grew up in rural Illinois and earned an MFA in fiction writing at Western Michigan University. He struggled with alcohol and substance abuse through most of his life and, during a botched robbery, killed a man on Halloween 2004. Since late 2005, he’s been serving a life sentence, with no possibility of parole, in various prisons throughout Michigan. He has three children with his partner, Kim. She is a writing professor living in Portland, Oregon.

For someone who had everything going for him I can’t really get my head around it. I just can’t imagine continuing to live when facing such a tragic outcome.

The book is written in a series of short stories all connected with Mr. Dawkins. (Think Olive Kitteridge.)  He doesn’t talk about his crime. Instead he talks about the friends he makes, some of the procedures he endures from day to day and how he passes the time. How does one pass the time when facing a lifetime of incarceration.

In one of the early chapters and my favourite,  he describes using the telephone to dial up random numbers. First the recipient must accept the charges after hearing the person calling is doing so from prison. Several people take him up on his offer and a very few let him know he can call back. He does so and has on going conversations about their lives and almost becomes a friend. “Just don’t do it too often,” one man states.

This book is a different story. It is not about the violence that one normally hears about prisons. There is nothing in his situation that is sensationalised.  Each story is of a different person he shares a cell with, the things they talk about or the experiences he has.  There were a couple of relationships that had me chuckling a bit. There is no doubt that each man may have friends but they are always watching out for number one.

I was fascinated by the tales. I liked Curtis. I did not see him as a murderer who completely ruined another’s life and that of the family. He was a man who did a stupid thing and it ended up in tragedy and a life of no hope. The story shows the feelings of the man, how he tries to cope day to day. What makes him laugh and how he tries to make his life mean something so he doesn’t completely go off the rails.

The men he shares his life with are first of all people, secondly people that really screwed up. I thought at times, this could happen to any of us in a fit of desperation, rage or just really bad judgment, especially as a young person.


The only criticism I had of the book was perhaps the ending was tidied up a little too quick. I felt it rather ended quite suddenly. I wanted a summary of sorts. I


am not sure I know what I mean by that but I was left wanting a bit more. More revelations of how he is going to survive.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys studying relationships between people who find themselves in unusual positions. How would we cope? This is an interesting slice of life written by an educated writer.











War and Peace for Winter?

Snip20170619_2This challenge has come out of left field for me. I have been looking for a War and Peace read along for some time. I see several of the bloggers I follow have signed up and having looked at it I think it is achievable.  It is being hosted by Reading in Bed which is a blog that was unfamiliar to me but I am now following her. It looks good. (here)

First I had to look at the schedule.

War and Peace

Soon: The War and Peace Newbie Tag
July 3: Start reading!
July 10: Volume I, Part I
July 17: Volume I, Part II
July 24: Volume I, Part III
July 31: Volume II, Parts I and II
August 7: Volume II, Parts III and IV
August 14: Volume II, Part V and Volume III, Part I
August 21: Volume III, Part II
August 28: Volume III, Part III
September 4: Volume IV, Parts I and II
September 11: Volume IV, Parts III and IV
September 18: Epilogues I and II
Late September: Draw winners, wrap up, etc.

Next I had to answer the questions. I think they are pretty straight forward. I have heard of this book all of my life but never read it. 

What edition and translation are you reading?



I am going to listen to the audio version (unabridged) narrated by Frederick Davidson from The translator is not mentioned in the blurb. It is published by Blackstone Audio books, 1998. I have no idea if it is a good version or not but the reviews are pretty good. We’ll see.

How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc)?

I know very little about this book. I know it is a period history about the Russian Revolution and a great love story. I am not at all knowledgeable about Russian history. 

How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I am not preparing at all. I have downloaded the book. I realise this is probably a book one needs to read two or three times to get more out of it but I am looking forward to my first read. As Mortimer Adler says in his book, How To Read A Book this book is like moving in to a village and gradually getting to know all the residents one encounters and the events of the community. It takes time.

What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

It is one of those books everyone wants to say, “Oh yes, I have read that.” (Don’t deny you want to say that). But I have thought about reading this book for such a long time but did not want to attempt it by myself. I think it is a book where discussion about the chapters will be useful. I am looking forward to seeing how others interpret it and what they feel about it.

What are you intimidated by?

I am listening to the audio version first because I cannot in anyway begin to pronounce the names. The names, places and events will have Russia references and I want to hear how those words are pronounced. Then if I ever read a written copy I will have that information somewhere in the file cabinets in my brain and I might be able to find those files again. Snip20170619_3

Do you think it’s okay to skip the ‘war’ parts? 

In one word, No. 

The Penguin and I are looking forward to travelling through this book with the others whose opinions I respect.