May 30, 2008

Destined to Live - Sabina Wolanski

Sabina has written the book in collaboration with a well known Australian author, Diana Bagnall and it tells the story of her life growing up very happily in Poland before, at the age of 12, the Nazis invaded and World War 2 consumed her town and her family.

I feel Sabina writes very honestly, not only about the events that happened to her and her family, but also about her feelings and reactions to those events - it was very engaging.

Sabina survived the war but her parents, beloved older brother and most of her extended family and friends did not. Sabina talks about the loss of these people in her live and it is clear how these losses have impacted on her throughout her adult life.

Sabina was chosen to give the opening address for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin in 2005 and a copy of her speech is included in the book. Sabina states that she is "The voice of the six million tortured and murdered Jews of which one and a half million were children, and I am also the voice of the lucky few - the voice of the survivors".

I found Sabina's early and later story honest and compelling.

May 26, 2008

Careless - Deborah Robertson

Careless by Deborah Robertson was my third book for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge and (I think) the first book to come from an Australian author and geographic location.

I have had this book in my "to read" pile for quite some time now - I have been holding off starting it mainly because of the topic area - I knew it was a book that dealt with death and some intense grief and loss issues in many forms. As a previous Bereavement Counsellor I sometimes feel my personal reading needs to steer away from this area to give myself a bit of a break from the loss but I have to say, after having finished Careless I am sorry I kept away from it for so long.

Careless tells the story of a number of characters - all brought together and linked by a tragic event involving the sudden death of a number of children in a local park.

The deaths impact on each character in a different way and to a different degree. There is 8 year old Pearl who has lost her younger brother (and crux of her world), Riley. Adam, a selfish, egotistical artist attempting to create the design for a lasting piece of art that will stand as a memorial to the dead children. Sonia, the widow of a famous Australian furniture designer, grieving for the loss of her husband and the removal of her sons to countries far away from her and Anna, a mother whose adult daughter was murdered by her partner a number of years ago.

Each of these characters have a distinct and individual voice - I enjoyed hearing each of their stories and seeing how they overlapped and impacted on the other characters.

The book is heartbreaking in many ways, there is intense pain being experienced and narrated, but I never felt depressed or overwhelmed by the story or the emotions it provoked. In fact, I couldn't get enough of the story. I read the book quickly and was left wanting more of the story at the end of the novel. That is not to say that I don't think the story was wrapped up well at the end, it was. I just wanted to stay in the world with these characters and find out where they went next.

The book contains many metaphors linking the artistic world and material objects to feelings of connections and links with people - particularly following death or loss. I enjoyed this symbolism and feel I would need to work through the book again to really take these on board and truly appreciate them.

Careless was shortlisted for the 2007 Miles Franklin Award in Australia and I am eagerly awaiting the author's next novel!

May 25, 2008

The Classics Challenge

Trish has started the Classics Challenge sign up. The Challenge runs from July - December and there are several challenge/reading options but I think I will stick to the first option which is to read 5 classics in the time period plus a bonus sixth book which can be chosen from the selection of "should be" classics on the challenge site.

My 6 options (at the moment!) are:

1. The Waves - Virginia Woolf

2. Howards End - E.M. Forster

3. For Love Alone - Christina Stead

4. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

5. Bleak House - Charles Dickens

6. Small Island - Andrea Levy

May 22, 2008

Juliet Dove, Queen of Love

Juliet Dove, Queen of Love By Bruce Coville was the latest selection for our Bookclub.

Quite an unusual choice but the night the genre was chosen we were eating "dove" chocolates and someone decided to throw in a genre called "a book with the word dove in the title"! Obscure, yes!

Juliet Dove, Queen of Love is a book written for the 9 - 12 years age group and at 190 large typed pages was quite an easy one to get through.

The Juliet of the title is a self-confessed shy girl who has moments of extreme temper when she is pushed by her classmates. One day following an argument with her blonde haired nemisis Juliet wanders into a magic shop and is given an amulet to wear by the strange woman behind the counter. Juliet is drawn to the amulet and wears it but soon realises that it can not be taken off and that it's effects seem to be causing the boys of her class and neighbourhood to fall madly in love with her.

What follows is a journey of mystery involving Juliet's friends and family, gods and goddesses and two winged rats to discover the magic that will remove the amulet from Juliet's neck and hence, the love spell.

Was I excited by this book - well, no - not really. But I can imagine it would have been something I would have enjoyed as a 9 year old.

May 21, 2008

The Spare Room

The Spare Room By Helen Garner was a book I had been waiting for for quite a while. Helen Garner's last few books have been non-fiction and while I have enjoyed them I have been looking forward to another novel.

You would probably call The Spare Room a novella - I finished it in a day and I would have finished it in one sitting if my life plans would have allowed for that! I was on a bit of a time restriction too as I am going to be listening to Garner speak at the Sydney Writer's Festival this weekend and I wanted to have the book completed by then.

The Spare Room is told from the perspective of "Helen" - a character that shares a lot of similarities with her author namesake (apparently the author has said that the book is not autobiographical). Helen is a woman in her early 60's living in Melbourne, Australia in a house beside her daughter, son-in-law and 2 young grandchildren (including a gorgeously precocious 5 year old, Bessie).

The book opens as Helen is preparing her spare room for the arrival of her friend Nicola from Sydney. Nicola has been diagnosed with a fatal cancer and is coming to Melbourne to be treated by an alternative health care clinic. Helen is extremely dubious and skeptical of the benefits Nicola will actually receive from this treatment and this scepticism really forms the crux of the story as the tension builds between the doubting Helen, who is providing constant care to her extremely unwell friend, and the ever hoping (some would say in denial) Nicola.

The story moves fast and yet as the reader you never feel rushed, the story seems to unfold as it needs to. I was with Helen the whole way and could feel her frustration with and sadness for Nicola - and herself.

Towards the end of the novel the tension within Helen has reached breaking point and as she trys to take some time for herself while Nicola is at the treatment clinic she writes;

"My heart was full of holes. Everything strong and purposeful was draining out me".

Such simple writing really but so strong and honest.

I loved this book - I was moved to tears by the ending and I am greatly looking forward to hearing the real life Helen talk about her work this weekend.

May 17, 2008

Classics Challenge Meme

Thanks to Trish for suggesting this meme - something to tempt our classics tastebuds before the challenge begins!

1. My favorite classic is either Jane Eyre By Charlotte Bronte or Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - please don't make me pick a sole winner!

2. The classic I had the toughest time finishing is a number too large to mention I think! I remember struggling hugely with Jane Austen when at high school but somehow when I got to University I "got it" and now she is my favourite author. I can't think of any classics titles off the top of my head at the moment for this question but I know I have a lot of trouble with books that have HUGE descriptive content rather than focusing on character.

3. I would recommend any Jane Austen book to someone who doesn't like/read classics. I think Jane Austen novels are fun, character driven and still relevant in a lot of ways to today's society.
I would also recommend a book called Classics - Books For Life By Jane Gleeson-White. The author talks about 62 books she sees as the classics of literature and within the book famous authors also list and talk about their favourite classics. I have found this book to be a helpful guide when choosing classics to delve into.

4. To me, a classic book is one that moves the reader and stands the test of time. I think a classic should be readable across time and (hopefully, culture and society). A classic is a book you want to go back to again and again.

5. The type of relationship I have with classics is as an in awe friend! I would like to say I have an "equal" relationship/friendship with the classics but I know this is not the case. I often struggle to read books labeled as classics but I find the journey rewarding when I give it a go.

May 16, 2008

My Reading Life

I have been away from the blogging world (and the internet world in general really) this week as I have been travelling around the place for work. My reading has also been a little sporadic but I have managed to delve into My Reading Life By Bob Carr. This book is one I have selected for the Non Fiction Five Challenge and I am finding it to be a book you can just dip in and out of (which was good while I was travelling and finding it hard to concentrate on anything other than driving a car for long periods!).

As I have mentioned before Bob Carr is a past Premier of the state of New South Wales in Australia and well known for his love of all things literary. I must admit although I was really looking forward to this book being released I was also feeling a little daunted as to how accessible the reading Bob Carr refers to in the book may actually be to me. After having read the first 100 pages or so I'm not feeling as daunted now!

As the title of the book suggests Bob Carr talks about the books that he has read, enjoyed and been moved by in his reading career. I was particularly interested in the first chapter of the book which discusses the book If This Is A Man By Primo Levi - a book that outlines the author's experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz. Bob Carr describes this book as the most important book of the twentieth century because "it is the best of all the books in the literature of testimony. Because it is a monument to all who were killed in the last century by totalitarian dictatorships. Because it tells us what humans are capable of ".

I have heard of Levi's book before but I will certainly be seeking out a copy now. Has anyone read this one?

May 10, 2008

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

I have just finished Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures By Vincent Lam - I love this title - and I really enjoyed the book.

The book, set in Canada, is broken up into 12 short stories with some of the characters and their stories overlapping and interweaving in the stories.

The stories are all set in the medical/hospital world. In the first story we meet Ming and Fitzgerald as they study for their entrance exam into medical school and struggle with their more personal feelings for each other (well, Ming struggles - Fitzgerald is a lot clearer about where he wants things to go). As the stories progress we then meet Chen and Sri - two more medical students about to become doctors and we begin to follow parts of their stories as well.

The author is a doctor himself and it definitely came through in his writing for me. I have worked in a hospital in the emergency and intensive care departments/wards and the writing in these stories really rings true and brings home the intensity, variety, tragedy and also humour of these places. I loved how the writing was so direct and punchy too - definitely paralled with the setting.

The stories are often cloaked in sadness and despair - some of our main characters don't meet the best of ends - but I still really enjoyed the read.

May 08, 2008

Weekend Reading

This is going to be a pretty busy weekend but I'm already putting some thoughts into what I want to be reading over the two days. I have been feeling a little overwhelmed with my reading choices lately and I hate feeling like that about reading - it's supposed to be my passion and joy not my stress and concern! I think in the not too distant future I will have to do some thinking about my reading goals for the next few months or so - hopefully that will help me to stay on track and read what I really want to be reading. Any suggestions or help with this would be greatly appreciated!
But for now I'll just concentrate on the upcoming weekend.
I picked up a book while I was in Sydney this week that I hadn't heard of before - Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures By Vincent Lam. It comes with glowing praise from Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood (possibly supporting their fellow Canadian but I think I'll trust them). I'm already 120 pages into this and it is very easy reading so I think I will try and finish this one over the weekend. The book is narrated from the perspective of four medical students and explores their relationships with each other and their work/study. Having worked in a hospital setting in the past I'm finding it very interesting reading. The author will also be speaking at the Sydney Writer's Festival which I am going to later this month so it would be great to hear him speak about the book there.
The other book I'm feeling the need to begin as I have been waiting for it to arrive for a while now is My Reading Life By Bob Carr. This is also a book I have down for my Non-Fiction Five Challenge.
Bob Carr is a former Premier of the state of New South Wales and is known for his love of reading and books and his promotion of children's literacy during his time as a political leader so I am looking forward to reading about the books that have impacted on his life.
I think that should get me through the weekend!

Indigenous Literacy Project

My attention has been drawn to the Indigenous Literacy Project by Abbeys Bookshop Blog.
This is a project that draws attention to the fact that Indigenous literacy rates are so low in Australia and works to raise awareness of this issue as well as raising funds to purchase books and reading resources for Indigenous children in the Northern Territory.
Our bookclub joined in this challenge last year and we each read 10 books from the lists provided on the project website - I think we will be joining in again this year to help raise some money for the project as well as helping to guide our reading for the year. The lists have some great ideas so check them out if you are interested.

May 07, 2008

The Philosopher's Apprentice - James Morrow

This book was a bit of a sidetrack in my reading plans - out at the bookshop and it caught my eye so home it came!

I have been tempted to delve into another James Morrow book - The Last Witchfinder and I think after my experience with The Philosopher's Apprentice I will have to give it a go.

The Philosopher's Apprentice was (for me) a cross between a futuristic outlook novel, science fiction, fantasy fiction and several complex ethical dilemmas!

A Philosophy academic (Mason Ambrose) having failed to have his PhD accepted takes on a job on an isolated American island working for a very wealthy woman with a problem - her 17 year old daughter (Londa) has no capacity to reason and act in a moral way. The reasoning behind this problem becomes very clear once Mason arrives on the island and discovers that Londa actually has "sisters" of whose existence she is unaware of. The way these sisters came into existence and the events that follow as a result of their moral education impacts widely and it is these events that cause the reader to really think about some topical societal issues and dilemmas. I found myself having to stop in places and just ponder the issues for a while before I could keep reading.

I find it hard to describe the context of this novel without giving away too much of the plot!

Although this is a genre of book I would not normally read or enjoy I have to say I was really engaged with this story. Although some of the events in the novel are out of the realm of possibility in current society they certainly appear to be a very real possibility in the story and I never caught myself saying "as if that would/could happen".

I will be on the look out for other James Morrow books in the future.

May 06, 2008

Living and Loving

I had a lovely experience today listening to the Sydney Pen Reading at Customs House Library by Virginia Lloyd author of The Young Widow's Book of Home Improvement which I have written about in earlier posts.

Virginia read small sections of her book and spoke about her book being classified as a "grief and loss" book (as I have been doing when talking about it to people!) when she herself sees it as a book about "living and loving". I really like this classification of the book - I think it perfectly captures how you see the events of the book and although grief is a very present emotion and passage the overarching theme that hits you is the amount of love this couple have for one another and their lives.

I felt very honoured to have been able to hear Virginia speak about her book and her experiences in person today.

May 05, 2008

Trying to Get To

As I am sure many people can relate to I seem to have a towering pile of books that I have been meaning to get to over the past few weeks (and in some cases months).

Kabul in Winter - Ann Jones is one I have had on the shelf for a while now. The book is written by a journalist and women's rights activist about the time she spent in Afghanistan after the American war there. I heard the author speak so passionately about her work and the experiences she had in this country during a radio interview in Australia that I went out and bought the book immediately.

Foreign Correspondence - Geraldine Brooks is one I need to read to complete my Geraldine Brooks reading experience.

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion is another one to add to my grief and loss reading pile. Even though (or maybe because) I work in this area I really enjoy reading books talking about people's lived experiences of grief.

The Student Chronicles - Alice Garner is a cute little book telling the author's tales of her past student days in an Australian University.

Thanks for the Memories - Cecelia Ahern is perhaps a little more lighthearted option than some of the above titles. I really enjoy "escaping" in these sorts of books sometimes.

So, off to work on the pile!

May 03, 2008

Life and Death

I have spent some time away from blogging this week - not really by design - work, reading and life in general just sort of took over. I think I was also suffering from the "post holiday blues" a little and felt I should wallow a little in that emotion!

I actually finished The Young Widow's Book of Home Improvement By Virginia Lloyd last weekend but I felt I needed some time to digest it's story and beauty before I wrote about it and how it impacted upon me.

I have worked as a bereavement counsellor in the past and have experienced my own personal losses and my upcoming PhD research will be conducted into the area of grief and loss. It is a topic I do a lot of reading and thinking about.

This book is one of the most amazing first person accounts I have read. I was so moved by Virginia's story surrounding the meeting of her husband and his death from cancer only 11 months after their marriage. Virginia talks on her blog about not wanting the story to come across as "all gloom and doom" and I believe she truly succeeds in this. I felt the story was full of life and hope as Virginia writes about the physical and emotional aspects of caring for John as the cancer consumes his body and about the grief that then consumes her after John dies.

Whilst I found the whole book amazing the part that impacted on me the most was near the end of the book when Virginia writes about John's last moments before death. He is in hospital and Virginia is with him but what makes the moment so beautiful is the way that Virginia lies beside John in his hospital bed (due to John's illness they had been unable to sleep in the same bed for the majority of their marriage). Virginia writes:

I climbed over the rails of the hospital bed and lay the full length of my body against his. John and I were lying together again, as husband and wife.

The honesty with which Virginia writes her story is probably the thing that makes you connect with the story, and with her, so strongly.

As a health worker, lecturer but mostly as a person this book has moved me and I would certainly recommend it to anyone wanting to connect with a story that makes us think and reflect on our own experiences of life and death in an honest, raw and compassionate way.