What Library Staff are Reading Uncovered
So Library peeps, what have you been reading to keep your heads above all this water?
(I had a week and a half in bed this month so read my self silly)
- Pure by Andrew Miller – it so happened I finished this book just as it was announced as the winner of the Costa Book of the Year. The Judges comments were that Miller had created a “structurally and stylistically flawless historical novel” – I think that’s going too far. It was OK but if I tell you I read at least two other books while I had this one on the go you might get an idea of what it did for me . . .
- Flock by Lyn Hughes – set in Mount Victoria and Blackheath, about families and wallpaper. A book group read, I quite enjoyed it.
- This is Not About Me and All Made Up by Janice Galloway – I downloaded these after listening to a Radio Scotland Book Café podcast interview with the author. Set in Ayrshire where I went to school these are misery memoirs with a sense of humour.
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett – another read for book group, and my second time with it. Well worth the reading.
- The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey – gentle murder mystery set in country England in the 1950s.
- Bereft by Chris Womersley – a really good read about a young man’s return to rural Australia post WWI to the scene of a crime he was accused of committing.
- The Ghost at the Wedding by Shirley Walker – non-fiction this one but a nice pair to Bereft. This is the story of brothers who go with the AIF to WWI and then of their sons and nephews who go off to WWII and the women they leave behind.
- I re-read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel because the sequel is due out later this year. Un-put-down-able.
- Status Anxiety by Alain de Boton – the most readable philosopher I know.
- In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar – set in 1970s Libya and told from the point of view of a 10 year old boy – so good I’ve ordered another book by this author, Anatomy of a Disappearance. Can’t wait!
- Dress Your Family in Corduroy – more snort-inducing family observational stories from David Sedaris.
- Code Name Verity – YA novel set in WWII and following two female protagonists, one a spy, one a pilot. Gripping stuff.
- The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt – violent, action-packed Western story – loved it!
- As a pair to The Sisters Brothers I’m trying Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian but I think I’m going to have to take this one slowly . . .
- Kitchen Confidential: adventures in the culinary underbelly by Anthony Bourdain. Not for the squeamish, this culinary memoir is full of commercial kitchen anecdotes to make your toes curl! Bourdain manages to make cooks and kitchen staff look like a strange breed of unruly rebel pirates, and kitchens like steamy, fiery, dangerous and relentless pressure-cookers. As an ex-waitress, there are a few stories I can relate to (minus the sex, drugs and celebrities).
- What I would do if I were you: dispatches from the frontline of family life by Mandy Nolan. Dry humour about contemporary family life. A little like a Richard Glover book, only from a mother’s perspective.
- Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham. Well-written, funny and absorbing. The story of an author’s attempt to write the biography of a respected Victorian writer – only to uncover a scandalous hidden past.
- Winter Trees by Sylvia Plath. It’s been so grey and rainy outside, I thought I’d cheer myself up with a little Plath…so continued on with more and read The Bell Jar too – A feminist classic; ultimately a very sad, but important story about mental illness and being a creative woman in contemporary society.
- How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. The book that shocked Germaine Greer!
- Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin – What a compelling story. Li was born into bitter poverty in rural Qingdao, China. Despite the harsh reality of life, his childhood was full of love. One day, a delegation from Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy arrived at Li’s commune school to find suitable children to study ballet and serve in Chairman Mao’s revolution. At first they passed Li without taking any notice, but just as they were walking out of his classroom, the class teacher hesitated, and suddenly tapped the last gentleman from Beijing on the shoulder and pointed. `What about that boy?’. And that boy was Li. And so began Li’s remarkable journey. He was 11 when he left home to begin a seven-year harsh training regime from 5.30 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week at the Beijing Dance Academy…and I never realised that he ended up in Australia.
- The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes – I have been putting off reading this book as I love, love, love Marian Keyes books. And I knew as soon as I read it, I didn’t have another one of Marians’ books to read….so it was kind of like a little secret reward to myself to read this book. The story is based around a group of people all living in the same house – 66 Star Street, Dublin – and it’s narrated by someone mysterious (and you don’t find out who until nearly the end). Great read, great characters, and now I am sad I have finished it.
- The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke – Awards for this book include being Shortlisted, 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – Young Adult Fiction Honour Book, 2010 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year – Older Readers. A beautifully written and deeply moving story of two young women, and how their childhood experiences and the choices they make as teenagers determine their fates. Reminded me of the Australia I grew up in. The only thing I didn’t like was the 1960s encounter one of the characters had with her local public librarian….but it was all forgiven when in the acknowledgements, the Librarians of Lithgow, Blackheath and Katoomba Libraries were thanked by the author – take a bow everyone. (Book dates from 2009).
- The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – retellings of classic fairy tales. Angela Carter revises “Puss-in-Boots” and “Sleeping Beauty,” for example, from an adult, twentieth-century perspective. Her renditions are intended to disturb and titillate her audience, instead of lulling it to sleep. The title story recasts the legend of Bluebeard, the mysterious French nobleman who murders his many wives. The legend, as recorded by the seventeenth-century author Charles Perrault, begins with the marriage of a girl to an eccentric, wealthy man. Called away on business, the newlywed husband leaves his wife the keys to every room and cabinet in the house. This keyring includes one key that she must not use: the one to the ”room at the end of the great gallery.’’ Of course, she eventually enters the room forbidden to her. In it she finds the corpses of her husband’s previous wives, all with their throats cut. Startled, the girl drops the key, which is enchanted and permanently stained by the blood on the floor. From this stain, Bluebeard discovers her disobedience. He raises his scimitar, but just in time, her brothers arrive to slay the murderer.
- Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett, a young Australian writer. I believe this is her first novel, and it’s a good one. A father and his sons are attempting to negotiate life after the death of the boys’ mother. The father is a fisherman with his own boat, and a dodgy off-sider named Jeff. The story is told from the viewpoint of the boys. How did their mother really die? How can they sustain themselves when their father has lost the plot? How dangerous is Jeff? There’s terrific writing here about the sea in all its phases, that Tim Winton would appreciate. Excellent read.
- Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout. A minister in a small parish in Maine, USA, encounters prejudice. His daughter Katherine suffers a trauma and stops speaking for quite a while. The natural goodness in the man is almost not enough to save him. I know I’m making this sound grim, but Strout’s writing is wonderful, insightful. She goes to the heart of what it is to be human. I will keep reading Strout for her wisdom and perception.
- Foal’s Bread by Australian writer Gillian Mears. Another novel I loved and was impressed – and educated – by. I never have been a “horse person” but Mears takes me to the world of horse high-jumping in the earlier part of the twentieth century, in northern NSW. Rolly Nancarrow is the champion jumper in the district; he sees a scrap of a fifteen-year-old girl (Noah Childs) flying over jumps others couldn’t do, and falls for her. Rolly has an odd tendency to be struck by lightning. He is struck more than once, which affects the fortunes of Rolly and Noah, and their children George and Lainey. Mears is a terrific storyteller, and brings the horse world to life with the vividness of one who knows and loves it.
- Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. I’ve just begun this one, but anyone who could write People of the Book and The Year of Wonders is going to deliver something good. So I’ll report on this next time.
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Set in New York in 1937.