Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A great collection of short stories

I've never heard of Irish writer Mary Costello but I have loved her collection of short stories. Reading one every night before falling to sleep, the stories have been just the right length, just the right pace, and with just enough suspense to keep me moving inexorably to the final page of that short story.
    "Each tale resounds with the extraordinariness of everyday experience."
      One critic has written of Costello that she is masterful in what she leaves OUT of a story, and I can only agree. The stories are deceptively simple, yet profound, delicately enfusing an apparently ordinary suburban landscape with an undertow of sadness, regret or envy...
     If you feel like something light, but divine, pick up this collection, and relish that mind-massaging feeling as you sink into words crafted by a master craftsman. The atmospherics of each story are palpable... >>>

Monday, April 29, 2013

A true story about Mumbai...

Online book clubber Claudine Bakker of Gettysburg in the United States - yes, our online book club has members all over the world - has just finished reading a book that has haunted her ever since.
    Here is her review in her own words:

       Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a non-fiction account of life, death and hope in the slums of Mumbai written by Katherine Boo, an award-winning American journalist who mostly writes about the poor and disadvantaged in America. Katherine Boo spent three years in the Annawadi slums of Mumbai.
      "I quickly grew impatient with poignant snapshots of Indian squalour: the ribby children with flies in their eyes and other emblems of abjectness that one can't help but see within five minutes of walking into a slum. For me...the more important line of inquiry is something that takes longer to discern. What is the infrastructure of opportunity in this society? Whose capabilities are given wing by the market and a government's economic and social policy?"
Their dreams are only realised as long as they coincide with the goodwill of the powerful
      The central characters in this book are a family of Muslim scavengers in the Annawadi slum, the Husains. Annawadians live in constant fear of having their unsightly little slum in the shadow of Bombay's new airport demolished. Young Abdul Husain works in the garbage recycling business
and the story details the plight and dangerous scavenging of Husain and his friends.
       Abdul's impetuous mother Zehrunnisa gets into a fight with the lame Fatima, a neighbouring prostitute, who ends up killing herself. This entangles the Husains in the judicial system, out of which, according to the author, there is little hope of coming out in one piece.  India's judicial system is corrupt and personifies injustice... a sad state of affairs for a country desiring to join the economic superpowers.
      While some slum dwellers may achieve moderately peaceful lifestyles if they are lucky, their lives appear superfluous overall while their dreams are only realised as long as they coincide with the goodwill of the powerful who have arbitrary and overwhelming control over them. It was hard to finish this powerful book as it deeply saddened me to know that there that many people who suffer daily on this Earth. I rate this book 4 out of a possible 5 stars.




Sunday, April 28, 2013

The pleasure of reading

I don't read blogs as a general rule so it's ironic that I am now writing one, but I'm doing so because I can see a benefit for me. And no, I'm not going to apologise for my 'selfishness'; too many people live their life for others, and have lost sight of how to make themselves happy. That's not me.
London-born to Jamaican parents,
Zadie Smith wrote the best-selling
White Teeth at the age of 22
The pursuit of happiness is, in any case, a cliched, trite exercise that typically ends up making you feel worse rather than better. Far better to cultivate small everyday pleasures, as Zadie Smith (right) puts it in an exquisite piece of writing I read recently in the New York Review of Books.
       In her essay, Smith makes the distinction between pleasure and joy. Joy, she points out, is often more trouble than its worth and exacts its pound of flesh. Pleasure, on the other hand, is subtler and sweeter... an infinite source of unspeakable delights. Smith goes on to mention myriad sources of pleasure like food (ditto); canine companionship (ditto); or the company of a life partner that is as reassuring as a pair of well-worn slippers (ditto). She also mentions music. Ditto, again.
Ubertalented Ed Sheeran was nominated
for Song of the Year at the 2013 Grammys
Take this morning, for example. I was listening to singer/songwriter and guitarist Ed Sheeran on my iPhone when I was suddenly inspired by his lyrics and riffs to boogie right then and there in Centennial Park. My friend Merle, there to meet me for our weekly exercise a deux, caught me mid-rapture and grinned in recognition. The sheer pleasure of the moment barely lasted a couple of minutes, but oh man, I felt GREAT.
      Autumn days. A leafy park. A kind, wise friend. My dog, a water bottle and my fluorescent, super-cushioning Nikes. They're life's simple pleasures and in these following posts, I look forward to sharing more with you, not least on the subject of one of my great passions, books. >>>

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A book to make you laugh...

If you chuckled at the recent publishing sensation, The Rosie Project, you may enjoy this charming and disarming novel, reviewed for the online book club by avid reader Claudine Bakker who lives in the USA.

   Jonas Jonasson is a former Swedish journalist and media consultant who wrote his first novel, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared, and saw it runaway as an instant success.   

This is a silly and wonderful novel  that will chase away the blues

    After a long and eventful life, Allan Karlsson ends up in a nursing home. He decides to escape the celebration of his 100th birthday party and climbs out of the window and embarks on a hilarious and eventful journey, involving a suitcase filled with money and some unpleasant criminals.
     Karlsson started out in munitions as a boy and somehow becomes witness to some of the most important events of the 20th century as he travels the world.
     Jonas Jonasson is presently working on his 2nd book about a South African in Soweto who turns the World upside down and Jonas claims is very funny. I will be looking out for this book as I hope it will be as charming and disarming as his first novel. Meanwhile, why not discover this new talent... the Scandinavians are proving brilliant at writing worldwide best-sellers! >>>


Friday, April 19, 2013

Jeffrey Archer and more...

The 3rd in the Clifton Chronicles
At the bridge club the other day I was talking books as usual. One of the players there mentioned that she was reading Geoffrey Archer and I blanched inwardly.  Goodness knows why I felt so snobbish; I've never read a Geoffrey Archer book in my life and he could be an amazing writer or storyteller....
    "I know Archer's done some terrible things in life, but he knows how to tell a story, that bloke. By the bottom of the first page, I'm hooked.   No one hooks me in as quickly, or as often, as he does.
   "If a writer doesn't get me in quickly, I probably won't finish the book," my card-playing compatriot continued.

                                                                                          "Life's too short
                                                                                        to read bad books!"

This woman wasn't the first to mention how much she loved Archer; I've bumped a lot of women recently who read him, and who are lapping up the Clifton trilogy. So much so, my curiosity is piqued and I downloaded the first of the trilogy this morning. I'm hoping to be hooked in, quick smart, and to bury my prejudices just as swiftly. (I love John Grisham, so why not Britain's version of Grisham, huh?)
    Bottom-line is I'm grateful to hear other people's points of view, and to keep my mind open to what's out there, so do keep me informed, fellow book clubbers. Of course, we all have different tastes, and I may chuck in the bin what you love ... and vice versa.
    Still, let's share and compare, and enjoy the argy-bargy that only book-lovers and avid readers can truly comprehend!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sydney Writers' Festival, May 2013

Robert Greene

Robert Greene on creativity, Anita Desai on what makes writing, humans and the worlds tick; Daniel Modern on storytelling; Sylvia Nasar on the state of the world's economies... OMG, what a treat! 
Sylvia Nasar

    Don't you just love it when you can pop along for an hour or so, dip in and hear someone thoughtful and erudite speak on a subject about which they are passionate, learn something, and go home, enriched? I do!

"Hear someone erudite speak about what they find fascinating."

Anita Desai

My SWF 2013 picks are Robert Greene on creativity, Sylvia Nasar on the world of economics, and the Friday night Festival Club for an evening of poets and rappers... just for something different.
  See you there folks!  And if you're interested in finding out more, here's a link to the Sydney Writers' Festival 2013 >>>

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A dazzling tale of survival....

I'm no fan of magical realism, but this work of fiction - imaginatively telling the story of the last remaining survivor of a remote Siberian tribe - is as eerily haunting as the landscape it vividly describes. Diego Marani writes masterfully, his prose like pounding surf transporting you on a thrilling ride of furious giant waves.

"Magic, despair, Siberian tigers, jealousy, rivalry, a murder mystery and even a dash of humour are all intermingled in this fantastical but completely believable story of a former Gulag inmate"

The Last of the Vostyachs won Diego Morani two of Italy's most prestigious  literary awards. No wonder. While the tale is primarily about survival, themes of isolation, communication, academic rivalry and innocence are woven tightly together to tell the story of an innocent, wordless man who, ultimately, finds a happy ending. 
   "They came out silently, without exchanging a glance; unhurriedly, expecting to be shot at any moment, to crumple on the spot, on to that mud they'd traipsed over so often. But now the camp was empty. The guards had all gone off during the night. The storeroom doors lay open, the chimneys of the barracks had ceased smoking. They fanned out from along the track dug out by the great wheels of the lorries, into the still dark forest, each in their own direction, without a word, as though in all those years psent locked up in there together they had never known each other."

A novel about ordinary people to whom
extraordinary things happen
    Who would imagine that from the "still dark forest" would emerge the tale of spritely linguist Olga, sleazy academic Autorva and his oft-cuckolded wife, Margareeta, and not least of all, the brave and stoic Ivan?
     Whisking the reader alternatively through zones of darkness, tenderness and the near-lascivious, there's something here for almost everyone. Get yourself a copy - and prepare yourself for an absorbing treat. >>>

Upcoming reviews: Mary Costello's The China Factory and Cory Taylor's My Beautiful Enemy.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

NY Review of Books gift idea...

If, like me. you are continually blogging or browsing the Internet on your laptop or iPad, you may find this nifty old-fashioned wooden 'desk' a perfect gift for a friend, loved one or yourself.

"Something to make computer browsing and blogging more efficient and pleasurable"

 Instead of making your lap hot, and possibly harming your nether regions, or otherwise balancing your mobile device on a random piece of board or cushion, this could make the entire IT experience more pleasurable... for $69.95 ordered online from The New York Review of Books, you get a portable 'desk' that doubles up as a base on which to perch your laptop or iPad as you work, think, play. Click on this link for a couple of other even more inexpensive options, if the idea appeals.  I'm sorely tempted... and thought I'd share! >>>

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Liberian Nobel Peace prizewinner autobiography

Online Book Clubber Ilana Rabinowitz of Vaucluse, NSW, went to hear Liberian peace activist Lemah Gbowee speak at the Sydney Opera House this past weekend (April 5, 2013) and  was moved to buy the Nobel Peace prizewinner's book, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War (easily available from online book retailers).

     "What a story of sisterhood, courage and the power of positive action!" 

   Gbowee is responsible for leading a women's peace movement that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. According to Wikipedia, her efforts to end the war, along with her collaborator Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, helped usher in a period of peace and enabled a free election in 2005 that Sirleaf won. This made Liberia the first African nation to have a female president.
Nobel Peace prizewinner &
     She, along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work." 
      After reading this book, will any of we First Worlders complain and whinge about petty domestic dramas again? Let's pray not! >>>

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Rosie Project is a must-read

Melburnian Graeme Simsion’s first novel, The Rosie Project, was sold to 30 countries for a collective sum of $2 million before it surfaced in Australian bookshops in early 2013, netting the 2012 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript en route.
     Both these achievements suggest the book is exceptional and it is, in the best possible sense of the word. From the minute you start leafing through the pages of the first chapter, chief protagonist, Don, hooks you in with his disarming, eccentric personality.
       It doesn’t take long to figure out that Don is to Asperger’s syndrome what George Clooney is to Hollywood, viz. poster-boy pin-up of gentlemanlike charm with foibles and tics of behaviour he tries his best to control… especially when he’s around Rosie.

“The insights into human behaviour, and the condition of Asperger’s, are profound.”

You could describe The Rosie Project as “just another love story”, but to do so would do this touching, amusing novel a disservice. Don may be outside the square, but he is not any the less lovable for it and his quest to achieve a semblance of “normality” is touching.      
      As one critic fittingly put it, this marvellous novel may be full of laughs, but it is also “a serious reflection on our need for companionship and identity.”
       Unsurprisingly, this book’s literary success was not “overnight”; rather, it had a long gestation and a great deal of refinement before coming to light in its present form.
        The result, I suspect, is that readers will be clamouring for more of Simsion’s light, deft touch as he interprets for us the human condition. ***

Upcoming review:
A lyrical, magical novel (see right) about identity, loss
and one's place in the world... set in freezing Siberia!