NOTABLE READS OF THE DECADE

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Every December lists sprout up as weeds after rain – Best Reads of the Year and the like. This year has an added category: 10 Best Reads of the Decade. Lonesome Reader’s post on the topic http://lonesomereader.com/ inspired me to hunt through my collection of tatty notebooks, and apply some thought. Ten books? One per year? Nah. I’ve listed the books that inspired, entertained, or informed me and made an indelible impression because of the stellar writing or their emotional impact or their intellectual content.

 
I read some magnificent novels: The Overstory- Richard Powers; the haunting A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara; the intriguing Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov ; the elegiac Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; the unsettling House of Leaves – Mark Z Danielewski; ;and in the decade I discovered Australian Tim Winton’s work. For which I am grateful!]
Memoir provided some startling reads, namely Educated by Tara Westover and The Glass Castle by Janette Walls.
Non-fiction :Noah Yuval Harari’s Sapiens and Ken Moji’s The Little Book of Ikigai provided food for thought as did The Swerve – Stephen Greenblatt.

 
These ten books added to my life one way or another. The gift of sight, books and reading are treasures.

 

APRIL 2019 READING ROUNDUP

 

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Coincidentally this month, I read two life-accounts by women raised in religious movements outside the mainstream (the Westover and Janzen books) which provided a stark contrast to each other. The bleak Westover book v.s. the cheerful Janzen account. I now realise why the Westover book was such a hit in 2018 in the USA. I must confess I was shocked that these events could and did take place in the fairly recent past. Had the setting been in the Pioneer days of the Wild West, the story wouldn’t have been so remarkable, but in the late 20th century ? An entirely different era, and therefore shocking.

Another twinned read: two space themed books. The Latimer South African Space romp, and the deeply thoughtful Matt Haig survey of humanity. Joanne Harris summarized the Haig novel as The Man Who Fell to Earth meets the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Very neatly and accurately put.

And now we come to The Binding – Bridget Collins. I was dying to read the Fantasy novel, partly seduced by the gorgeous cover, and plunged in. But: about a quarter way through, the story took a different turn into the realms of faux-Victorian erotica. Its described as a Gothic novel, and it is. The writing is vivid, the characters memorable, and I must confess to being swept away. I cannot say more, lest I stray into spoiler territory. I suspect it was the cross genre direction of the novel that threw me. I’m still not sure if I enjoyed it or not! I’d love your views on the novel?

You already know my weakness for reading cook books, don’t you? Plus my addiction to MasterChef Australia ? So when I spotted a second hand copy in my local indie bookstore – Books Galore, Sunningdale  – we all know what happened next, don’t we? Worth every cent. As the sub-title says: 204 Recipes you’ll want to Cook Again and AGAIN. And Matt Preston on the cover, with a roguish twinkle in his eye. What I loved most about the book was his entertaining text, prefacing most recipes. Warm, down to earth, with jolly little quips and asides. I think I put on 2 kg just reading the damn thing. It was a worthwhile splurge.

 

FICTION
The Binding – Bridget Collins. Fantasy novel; more of a love story, despite the magical elements in the story. Unusual cross-genre story.

The Space Race – Alex Latimer.  South African Afrinauts set off to conquer new worlds. Fun read debut novel. Very authentically S’Affrican!
The Plains – Gerald Murnane. Difficult and challenging literary novel by renowned Australian author.

Happiness for Humans – P Z Reizin. A laugh-out-loud easy read: what if your AI project set you up with the perfect date? AI meddles in the real world with hilarious results.
The Humans – Matt Haig. A thought provoking look at our species via the cool eyes of an alien visitor. Quirky, elegiac, wonderful. High on my Re-Read Soon List.

NON-FICTION
Mennonite in a Little Black dress – Rhoda Janzen. Cheerful memoir of a Mennonite childhood plus a sobering reflection on a 15 year bad marriage.
Educated – Tara Westover. Shocking account of a brutal childhood, bravely overcome in early adult life.

Fast, Fresh and Unbelieveably Delicious – Matt Preston. Pasta with Personality, Teatime treats, and Matt Preston in all his twinkly glory, sans wildly colourful suits, but plus lovely recipes. Yes please: I’d love to come over for tea. Or any food event in your house!

MARCH MID-MONTH UPDATE

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What I’ve just finished: A magnificent novel, The Overstory – Richard Powers, followed by what I thought would be a quick, light read and turned out to have more substance than I’d anticipated: The Convent by Maureen McCarthy.
My first six years of schooling were at convents, so I had a nun-laden childhood. Going to an ordinary government school was a real eye opener, I can tell you! But it left me with an abiding interest in the religious life under whatever label. So I’ve read books by Western nuns (I leap over the Wall by Monica Baldwin) and Buddhist nuns (Cave in the Snow by Vicki Mackenzie, a Tibetan nun) plus other titles. I found the Australian convent themed book to be engrossing, particularly the details of convent life, and also the history of the infamous Magdalene Laundries.

On a more positive note, I finally got to grips with The Overstory. What a wonderful read! Richard Powers Richard_Powers writes beautifully. His description of the life cycle of trees, the forests, the history of trees is lyrical and enchanting. And his description of the humans, eco-activisits and others, who try to halt the rampant, destructive logging on the Pacific Northwest coast of USA is powerful and compelling. I know I will re-read the novel. There’s so much going on, I know I missed out on detail, nuances and plot connexions. The books is ambitious and sweeping, I was swept along with the story. Try and read it if you can. A Not to be Missed read.

I was disappointed that it didn’t win the 2018 Booker Prize.

What’s coming up next: Two TBRs . One I’m dying to read and that’s Educated by Tara Westover, and the second, a dutiful attempt to try and reduce the TBR shelf: Flying to America by Donald Barthelme. I bought the Barthelme collection of short stories three years ago at the famous McGregor Annual Book Sale in aid of the Donkey Sanctuary, & blush to report that the book has been languishing on the TBR shelf ever since. The e-book has only been waiting three months, so that’s nothing, by comparison.

Local reading conditions: Tricky, due to the daily load shedding (i.e. rolling electricity blackouts). My TV viewing has taken a knock, but I can fire up my Kindle and that works fine, provided I remember to charge it when we next have power. And then I have a LED lantern, which, if held very close to the page, enables me to read printed paper i.e. the beloved old-style book. All of which reminds me of the parafine hurricane lamps of my childhood which made night time reading almost impossible. As a result, to this day, I hate dim lighting with a passion.
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