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My month started with reads from three female writers. Not by design, it just turned out that way. I tackled three TBRs: Convenience Store Woman had been beckoning to me for months and finally I turned on the Kindle and read it. What a strange story! From childhood Keiko has been different. Not normal, by anybody’s standards and in rigidly classified Japanese society there’s plenty of social pressure to conform. Having a lifelong career as a convenience store worker is socially unacceptable so Keiko succumbs to the pressure and forms a curious liaison with a man (and he’s horrendous; her judgement is not good!) but in the end, she’s happy to just be a Convenience Store Worker. The novel ended abruptly. But Japanese novels present many challenges as I have learnt over the years. Did I enjoy it? Yes, in a weird way. If you’re looking for something different, give it a try.
A friend gave me an unexpected gift, Name all the Animals by Alison Smith .
She enjoyed the notion that the book was apparently written by me! Pure coincidence, because the American memoir certainly could not have been more different to my Central African youth. The memoir turned out to be an intense account of the writer’s early life, the strong Catholic influences, her dilemma concerning her sexual identity and the seminal moment of her brother Roy’s early death, interspersed with passages detailing an ordinary life unfolding in Boston during the mid 1980s. I enjoyed the writing, which in places was superb. I don’t think I would have chosen to read the book, but it turned out to be an unusual read. Thanks for the prezzie, Sam . You introduced me to a memoir written in what is now called the “ Creative non-fiction” style.

I bought Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection at our recent 2019 Open Book Festival, having read many enthusiastic reviews of her work. What a writer! Fearless and intelligent; strong lesbian themes. Wikipedia told me: short story author, essayist, and critic frequently published in The New Yorker, Granta, Lightspeed Magazine, and other publications. Her story collection Her Body and Other Parties was published in 2017. I was quite disappointed to discover she’s American born – I thought all that fiery passion had to be of Latin origin, say Brazil, but no. I can’t wait to read more.


I followed up the female writers with a blazing dose (literally: the description of an Australian bushfire is red hot) of down-under crime, written by a seasoned male journo. I seldom read crime, but this novel had me turning the pages at breakneck speed.

Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata. The loneliness and social pressures of being a non-conformist in modern Japanese society . Seriously weird and very intriguing.

Her Body and other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado. Debut Short Story collection. Unique, breathtaking prose; avoid this if you are not comfortable with lesbian themes .

Scrublands – Chris Hammer. Crackerjack Australian crime set during the terrible drought, where heat, greed and secrets explode. A page turner. Recommended.

An Obvious Fact – Craig Johnson. Another TBR – worth the wait! A great story, colourful characters, plenty of action, flashes of humour – you can’t beat a Walt Longmire story for a satisfying, enjoyable read.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton . A wildly complicated plot that was super confusing. 114 pages in, I’d had enough.

84K – Claire North. Although I’m a CN fan, this one just didn’t do it for me. Too bleak, too dystopian and 59 pages was enough for me.


Name all the Animals – Alison Smith; memoir. Vividly written American memoir, exploring grief, Catholic upbringing, and pubescent sexuality en route. An unusual read.




Literary ignoramus that I am, I had no idea there were two Thomas Wolfes.
I’m familiar with the American novelist, Tom Wolfe, author of Bonfire of the Vanities, currently lurking on my TBR shelf.
But the other TW? I had no idea, until I watched the movie Genius, last night, featuring  talented Colin Firth as the editor Maxwell Perkins, he of saintly patience and forbearance, the brave editor who took a chance and published unknown novelist Thomas Wolfe’s first novel Look Homeward Angel : A story of a Buried Life. After a long and torturous editing process, Scribner published the novel in 1929, to wide acclaim.
Jude Law plays the part of the ebullient Thomas Wolfe, giving a vivid portrayal of a writer driven by the creative urge, in all its power and destructiveness. Having watched the film, I recognise the origins of the stereotype of writers as hard drinking, hard living, driven to excess both in life and in their work. Contemporary writers F Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway both appear in the movie.
Of course we all know about Hemingway’s larger than life macho posturing, but I now realise there were others in the same era, acting out their own considerable dramas. It seems to me that the 1920s/30s flamboyant writers are a now-extinct species. Watching, current writers being interviewed on BBC Hay Fest literary doccies, they’re all frightfully well behaved!


Colin Firth gives a marvellous, restrained performance as Maxwell Perkins . Despite bad reviews, which I read later on Wikipedia, I was spellbound. Because I’m a bookish viewer, I enjoyed the low key, semi-monotone style. I wonder if other bookish bloggers have seen the film and how they reacted to it?
Maybe later in the month I might get around to Tom Wolfe II and his Bonfire. I’m currently working through a doorstop of a book by another American writer, Johnathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am. More on this topic in another post.



If you are a regular reader of my lit blog, you will have seen my rave review of the Tim Winton book earlier in August. I remain in the stratosphere of reading joy over the book. I’d like to read it again, to savour the language, the writing. TW is a superb masculine, muscular writer. He manages to avoid being macho, like my bete noir, Ernest Hemingway. I find his books so satisfying in terms of story, characters, setting, and powerful writing. Oh, that I could turn out the prose that he does. Not in this lifetime, not in a million years.
I read a much anticipated book  The Pine Islands, nominated for the 2019 Booker prize. It has an imaginative premiss resulting in a fresh, and unusual story – Japan and the Japanese seen through pedestrian German eyes. Middle aged Gilbert Silvester has an unsettling dream, prompting a midlife crises; he precipitately flees to Japan where he sets out to follow the footsteps of wandering seventeenth century poet, Basho’s  pilgrimage to the pine islands of Matsushima. En route he encounters Yosha, who’s looking for the best location to kill himself. They form an unlikely travel duo, covering Japan via rail. It’s a strange book, and one I will re-read later. I enjoyed the descriptions of the countryside, and I liked the book format, with its lovely blue and white crane design end papers. You’ve probably got to be a haiku fan, or a Japanophile to truly love the book.

I am very keen to read and promote South African books but can’t recommend Eve Mazzas Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch. Suzelle DIY announces on the cover: “A scandalous, saucy page -turner”. Whilst I would never have suspected SuzelleDIY to have hidden literary depths, she’s hit the nail on the head. Pun intended. Two chapters in, drowning in booze, bodies, sex and sleaze, I abandoned the book. Not for me. Not to my taste. You can’t win ‘em all.


The Shepherd’s Hut – Tim Winton. Brilliant. 10 stars wonderful. Reviewed on this blog.
The Pine Islands – Marion Poschmann. Translated from German by Jen Calleja. An unusual book, wonderfully imaginative. Surreal, but engaging.

The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village – Joanna Nell. Charming Australian novel about life, love, secrets, makeovers, families and golden years romance. A relaxing, easy read.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jan-Phillip Sendker. An unusual and beautiful love story set in Burma. Sensitively and well written. Recommended.

Heaven, Hell and Mademoiselle – H C Carlton. The fashion world of Paris in the 1960s, written by an insider. An enjoyable blend of Sex in the City and The Devil Wears Prada. Viva the House of Chanel!
Don’t Run Whatever you do. My Adventures as a Safari Guide – Peter Allison. Young Aussie spends seven years in Botswana; title says it all. Narrow escapes and tall stories. Wildlife enthusiasts will love this one.

Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch – Eve Mazza. DNF. Did not enjoy.
Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney. Another DNF.

My Experimental Life – A J Jacobs. Quirky American Jewish writer tries Extraordinary life experiments, one per month, on himself! For example, one month he Outsources his Daily Life (basic daily tasks that can be accomplished on line) to two Indian companies. Hilarious. And his long-suffering wife deserves a medal.