Category Archives: Miscellaneous

What We’re Reading: May

Annie
A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

Funny, inventive and reflective, A Line Made by Walking is the story of a young artist’s gradual return to the world following a period of mental ill-health. Managing to combine a book about art, fragility and hope with the changing of the seasons, Baume uses language like a finely tuned instrument.

I’ve also been at Sydney Writers’ Festival this week, and have seen fascinating conversations with people such as Eliza Robertson (Demi-Gods), Min Jin Lee (Pachinko) and Jennifer Egan (Manhattan Beach). It is always incredible to me how articulate, intelligent and considered writers at the height of their powers can be. And of course I’ve come home with several additions to my to read pile!

Robin
All’s Faire in Middle School – Victoria Jamieson

I was a huge fan of Victoria Jamieson’s debut graphic novel Roller Girl, so when my friend told me that Jamieson’s second book was even better, I was skeptical to say the least. How could any book that wasn’t about roller skating possibly measure up!? But All’s Faire in Middle School delivers even more comedy, complexity and warmth than its predecessor – not to mention substantially more medieval insults. Imogene, a funny and spirited girl raised in the tight-knit, eccentric Renaissance Faire community, decides to leave home-schooling behind and attend public school for the first time… but gets more than she’s bargained for, with schoolyard dramas as fierce and forbidding as any dragon. An excellent read for older kids, light-hearted teens, or anyone who enjoys great graphic novels, All’s Faire is a sort of tween-aged Mean Girls … with sword-fighting.

Charmaine
Circe by Madeline Miller

This week I have been utterly captivated by Madeline Miller’s new book, Circe. This is a contemporary re-telling of the Odyssey with Circe as the central character. And if, like me you have not read the Odyssey, Circe was the first witch in Western literature. She is an extraordinary woman; banished from her family to a remote and hostile island, Circe uses her powers with plants to turn visiting, predatory sailors into pigs and to protect herself and eventually her son from other Gods and mortals. Miller’s writing is sumptuous, dangerous and sometimes terrifying. She creates a world that is visceral, powerful, captivating and compelling. I have cherished every minute I have spent there.

So now I must read the Odyssey! In 2017 Emily Wilson completed the first translation by a woman – yesterday I ordered myself a copy.

Kate
The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy

Deborah Levy (Hot Milk and Swimming Home) is one of my favourite authors, so when her new book came out, I dropped everything else to read it. The Cost of Living is the second book in a three-part autobiographical series, following on from Things I Don’t Want to Know. Levy recalls the part of her life where everything seems to fall apart. As she tries to find a new way to live, she faces the pressures of social convention, the complexity of mother daughter relationships and the expectations of women. She thinks beautifully about her compulsion to write and tackles her experiences with compassionate honesty and humour. It was such a joy to read this little book that I know it won’t be long before I pick it up again.

What We’re Reading: April

Annie
The Miniaturist  by Jessie Burton and The Hoarder by Jess Kidd

I’ve just finished two books about creepy houses full of mysteries and sadness. The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton, is set in Amsterdam in the 17th century and follows a country girl as she settles into life with her new husband. Largely absent from their house (and her bed), Nella must strive to form relationships with his controlling sister and their two unusually outspoken servants. When she is gifted a miniature replica of their house, she seeks to express herself through the objects with which she fills it, but quickly finds that someone is keeping a close eye on the family.

The Hoarder is a contemporary novel by Jess Kidd, but is also preoccupied with the secrets that old houses can hold. Maud is a care worker who has been sent to look after the Irish giant (and titular hoarder) Cathal Flood. Populated with spirits, saints and a whole lot of cats, Maud soon finds that the house hides the key to the untimely demise of at least one woman. Cheered on by an agoraphobic trans-woman, she starts to investigate, all the while being plagued by reminders of a disappearance in her own past. It is delightfully Irish and a rollicking tale of murder and family secrets.

Robin
Sal by Mick Kitson

Mick Kitson’s debut novel Sal had me hooked from the first page, with a story just as punchy and direct as its title. Resourceful, brave and literally pitted against the elements, teenage Sal is both a survivor and an outlaw, whose fierce and protective love for her younger sister has jettisoned them both out of a life of abuse and neglect – and into the altogether different dangers of the Scottish mountain wilderness. A compact constellation of just four characters – all female – Sal is such a warm, nuanced and resonant story about women that it had me checking and double-checking that it was really written by a man. A propulsive and very moving read.

Charmaine
Bark by Lorrie Moore

I went looking for some excellent writing that would nourish my longing to be provoked into deep thought about what constitutes good writing and at the same time provides subtle, fresh and maybe even humorous insights into our lives and our interactions with each other. I found Lorrie Moore’s 2014 Bark, on my shelves. I don’t recall reading it back then, so I began this treasure of eight short stories. The stories are about the unpredictable connections that people make and are often darkly amusing. But I had made the right choice, after each story I came away with that wonderful, satisfying joy that excellent writing can bring.

Kate
Hunger by Roxane Gay

Hunger is Roxane Gay’s memoir about being fat (her favoured word). It is difficult to read, as I imagine it must have been for her to write. The form seems to reflect her repetitive inner dialogue and anxieties about constantly attempting to take up less space.Hunger is an attempt to consider the complexities of fat, as a larger issue than a physical problem that can be dieted away. Gay considers the argument that fat is a feminist issue and sometimes feels as if she should be a campaigner for fat-positivity but is honest about how she really feels and urges us to rethink what fatness can mean.

The difficulty of reading the book does not lie in her descriptions of living in a body that is viewed as problematic but recollections of her childhood trauma that instigated her attempts to turn her body into a safe fortress to protect and hide herself from others. She tells the story of her childhood, adolescence and emergence into adulthood as she restlessly travels between cities, jobs and relationships trying to make sense of her experiences and accept herself as she is. Although it is a challenging read at times, it is also a pleasure, with her charismatic humour and admirable spirit: “I am stronger than I am broken”.

What We’re Reading: March

Annie
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of stories Her Body and Other Parties considers all the ways women’s bodies are used and abused in our society. It is absurd, scary, sexy and even, at times, darkly funny. The stories play with form and subvert familiar tropes, making the collection feel very contemporary and a bit risky. I’ve also been reading two books that chime with Machado’s book: Hunger by Roxane Gay and Apple and Knife by Intan Paramaditha. Both have a huge preoccupation with the body, and Paramaditha’s story collection also injects feminism into familiar fairy tales. All three women seem to be expressing their desire to be seen as more than their bodies, to escape from the capitalist and all-consuming corporeal world.

Robin
La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

This month I’ve had the pleasure of returning to Philip Pullman’s much-loved alternate Britain of daemons, Dust and existential daring. The Book of Dust Volume 1: La Belle Sauvage is a prequel, of sorts, to His Dark Materials – and like that trilogy, it revolves around a curious and independent-minded child, who becomes embroiled in decidedly grown-up clashes of faith, science, power and morality. La Belle Sauvage‘s Malcolm, however, is a far more careful and sensitive protagonist than the raucously half-wild Lyra of His Dark Materials, and this gives the book a more restrained quality – all subtlety and intrigue, keen observation and mounting menace. It’s a must-read for fans of the first series, and sure to win over many more.

Jess
RHS Genealogy for Gardeners by Simon Maughan

At the moment I’ve been looking through the Royal Horticultural Society’s book RHS Genealogy for Gardeners: Plant Families Explained and Explored. It’s a fascinating book with beautiful painted illustrations which traces the history and diversity of flora right back to its early origins. Imagine an animal encyclopaedia but for plants and you’ll be on the right track. You can discover where different plant families originate geographically, what their fruits and leaves look like, whether they have any interesting/useful properties and what the current state of their wild populations are in their natural habitats. I’ve found it very enjoyable to pick and a browse through with a cup of tea in hand, it always results in fresh garden inspiration running through my head!

Kate
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood is an American writer and poet who, for financial reasons, moves back into her family home with her partner. Her father is a priest and her mother is a complex character who is very religious, erratic and worried about the dangers of the world. Lockwood recounts moments from her childhood and her relationship to her parents now through loud-out-loud funny recollections. So far the humour has been a dominant part of the memoir but she has also touched on some serious topics such as abuse of power in the church. I hope and think more serious moments are approaching as she gets deeper into her family’s psyche but for now I am cherishing her talent to be so funny and empathetic.

Charmaine
The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Well the author that had me running to the Writers’ Week bookshop was Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The Fact Of A Body is compelling and difficult reading. Two stories are told – the one about the murder of a little boy about 20 years prior, that the author was asked to research as a young law intern. The second about her own childhood secrets that unexpectedly emerged during her research. Her interview was astoundingly honest and left us all deeply thoughtful and sure that we had just heard some difficult truths that are rarely spoken publicly. I spoke to several people afterwards, all similarly off to get a copy.

Take Six Girls

When I told my colleague Annie that I had just finished Laura Thompson’s Take Six Girls, she quipped that you couldn’t make the Mitford sisters up. Born into an aristocratic British family between 1904 and 1920, the girls were many things: talented, beautiful, witty – and scandalous. Reflecting the opposing political currents of the time, two were fascists (Diana and Unity) and one a communist (Jessica), while Nancy became a world-famous novelist and Deborah a Duchess. Only the good-natured Pamela kept a low profile, preferring the slow, quiet pleasures of rural life to the limelight. Packed with comedy and tragedy in equal measure, it’s little wonder that the ‘Mitford Industry’ shows little sign of abating.

The last major group biography of the Mitford sisters was Mary S. Lovell’s The Mitford Girls (2001). Thompson’s book is heavily indebted to Lovell’s but, for my money, is the better of the two. Although her conservatism irksomely shows through here and there, Thompson’s prose is – not unlike Nancy’s – elegant and wry, with keen psychological insight and a good feeling for the eccentricities of the British upper class. Take, for example, this memorable description of the girls’ iconic status:

They are part Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, part Patti Hearst in the Symbionese Liberation Army,  part Country Life girls in pearls, part Malory Towers midnight feasters, part marble frieze of smiling young goddesses. Their significance has become detached from the realities of their own times, and is now a significance of image; as most things are today.

Thompson’s book is useful and pleasurable because it fully situates the Mitfords in their time and place, a polarised society – not unlike ours – shaped by furiously partisan politics and a strengthening far right. For once, too, Unity’s tragedy is given its full human dimension, the Hitler fanatic portrayed neither jokingly nor sympathetically but rather as a complex and rather sad figure.

Of course, though, it is Diana and Nancy – the ‘white and black queen’ of the Mitford girls, in Thompson’s phrase – who dominate the book. Thompson maps out their very different journeys with plenty of revealing detail, charting the darkly fascinating Diana’s all-consuming passion for the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, and Nancy’s descent into the hellish illness that would claim her life.

Whatever one thinks of the Mitford sisters – and there is plenty to dislike in their unearned privilege and attraction to abhorrent ideologies – ‘it is impossible,’ as Thompson writes, ‘to find them boring’.

From the Wreck

Humans have always had a fascination for the sea, as well as a fascination for the stars. Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck masterfully brings together these little-understood, far-off places with a truly human story, set in the familiar location of the burgeoning colony of Adelaide.

When a man miraculously survives the 1859 wreck of the Admella, thanks to the efforts of a strange, otherworldly life-form in the guise of a woman, he becomes obsessed with finding her again on dry land. This haunting, lyrical book explores the lengths people will go to when confronted with the unknown, and the universal desire to find one’s place in the world.

Full of spirited, modern characters, this historical-cum-science-fiction novel draws comparisons with Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. I highly recommend that you lose yourself in its depths.

The Anxiety Book

Elisa Black is a health journalist from the Adelaide Hills, who has lived with anxiety her whole life. Recently, she has published The Anxiety Book, which is part memoir, part pop psychology – with Elisa herself as the guinea pig. It is honest, searching and well-researched and contains surprising (and necessary) moments of humour.

anxiety book

She chronicles the course of her anxiety alongside the course of her life, as the one has dictated the other in so many crucial instances. She includes stories from multiple other sufferers, showing that there is no one anxious ‘type’ – one in ten Australians experience it every year. Throughout the book, Black pits her anxiety against hope, and it is this hope of living a life without the effects of anxiety that has led her to share her story.

The book arose from an article in the Advertiser that went viral, in which Elisa wrote about her recent success with a simple vitamin regime, after years of trying to find a solution for her crushing illness. By taking folinic acid alongside some other naturally occurring vitamins, Black has been able to correct an abnormality in the expression of her MTHFR gene. While this treatment does not yet have the research to back it up, for Elisa it has worked when so many other methods have not, and she is not alone.

As in the best memoirs, I came away feeling I had a whole picture of a person; what’s more, the kind of person with whom you can drink a pot of tea and have a good laugh (or cry, as necessary).

Come along to Mostly Books at 7 pm on Wednesday the 8th of June to hear Elisa speak about her experiences. Please RSVP via phone or email – tea, coffee and wine provided on the night.

On ‘liking’ and ‘appreciation’

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Is there a difference between ‘liking’ something and ‘appreciating’ it?

If you’ve read my review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, you’ll know that I enjoyed reading it but thought it lacked substance (especially given how long it is).

This brought me to thinking about something that has been in my head for a while now: the idea of ‘liking’ versus that of ‘appreciation’. What I mean by this is that there can be a difference between liking something and appreciating its literary merits. Studying texts in a school environment for the past few years has made me more aware of this and now I think that I can form and articulate some cohesive thoughts on the subject.

What is ‘liking’ and what is ‘appreciation’?

In my mind, these two terms have distinct meanings and ideas associated with them.

‘Liking’ is when I enjoy something, regardless of whether it has (in my opinion or in anyone else’s) literary merit.

‘Appreciation’ is when I can understand why something is respected or liked by other people, regardless of whether or not I enjoyed reading it.

And on the topic of definitions, I used the term ‘literary merit’ above. To me, this means that a text has inherent value that can be seen by reading critically

Is there a difference between ‘liking’ and ‘appreciation’?

In terms of dictionary definitions, there most certainly is a difference between ‘liking’ and ‘appreciating’ something, but dictionary definitions aren’t the point of me thinking about this question. I am more interested in asking whether a distinction can be made, and, perhaps more importantly, if one needs to be made between these two terms. The latter question is very much subjective, but I think one that is still useful to ask.

Festive Five gift book list #1

The silly season is creeping up on us again – and what better gift for the loved ones on your list than a wonderful, well-chosen book!

Over the next few weeks we will be perusing our collection in-store, and posting some of our top picks here to help you choose. New releases, old favorites, food for thought and fuel for laughter, there’s something for everyone!

Here is our first list of five, to get you started:

1. For Foodies:
Inspire your aspring chef with NOPI by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramuel Scully

NOPI, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramuel Scully

“In collaboration with NOPI’s head chef Ramuel Scully, Yotam’s journey from the Middle East to the Far East is one of big and bold flavours, with surprising twists along the way.”
Suggested by Kate

2. For the young and young-at-heart:
Enchant their imaginations with Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall – a true story filled with wonder!

Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall

Truth is every bit as delightful as fiction in this fascinating, adventurous and sweet story of the real-life bear who inspired A.A. Milne to create Winnie-the-Pooh. Warmly told by the great-great grandaughter of the war veterinarian who adopted ‘Winnie’, and beautifully illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
Suggested by Robin

3. For the creatives in your life:
9780500500521Get their stitchin’ fingers itchin’ with The Craft Companion, by Ramona Barry and Rebecca Jobson

Craft has transcended the domestic and is now thriving in every creative sphere – food, fashion, fine art, architecture and more! The craft revival shows an increasing appreciation of community and DIY approaches to life. From embroidery and felting to collage and macrame, The Craft Companion features over 30 new and old crafting techniques. Each chapter looks at the evolution of a craft, contemporary artists working with the medium, as well as tools and techniques to get you started – plus a project you can do at home.
Suggested by Kate and Robin

4. For the wanderlusty:
Dazzle their senses with Lonely Planet’s Beautiful World
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The breath-taking photography in Beautiful World will take you to the planet’s most magnificent places. Thought-provoking insights into these incredible scenes will leave you in awe and with itchy feet.
Suggested by Kate

5. For the story lover:
An extraordinary re-imagining of King David’s rise to power and fall from grace in Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord

Part legend, part history, all drama and richly drawn detail; with stunning originality, acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks offers us a compelling portrait of a morally complex hero from this strange and wonderful age.
Suggested by Ben


And now we’ll stick our noses back into the fabulous range of books in-store to put together our second Festive Five gift book list! Happy reading until then!

 

‘An Ordinary Madness’ – Lorna Hallahan Launches ‘The Anchoress’

Two weeks ago, Robyn Cadwallader’s amazing book The Anchoress was launched at Dymocks in Rundle Mall. I was unable to be there on the night, but a friend was kind enough to email me the beautiful speech that Lorna Hallahan delivered. It impressed me so much that I asked Lorna if we could republish it here, and she has kindly granted permission.

The Anchoress by Robin Cadwallader: launched!

Good evening and welcome.

I’m going to do things in three moves. I’ll do the first and then explain the other two.

Before we begin, I’d like to acknowledge that we meet this evening on Kaurna land, and to pay my respects to Kaurna elders past and present.

I’m going to address all of you gathered here and I’m going to talk about what I think of The Anchoress. Then, Robyn, I want to address you directly.

The AnchoressThe Anchoress starts as such a claustrophobic tale. Take yourself back eight hundred years and find yourself in a room no longer than ten small paces and half that width, with the door nailed shut, a small hole or squint through which to view the Mass, a door to a similarly shut-off maid’s parlour and a heavily curtained window through which you can speak only to other women and a couple of designated men. Imagine committing yourself to live like that for the rest of your life. Imagine that you are seventeen years old. Imagine that many of your memories of your early life are filled with loss, sorrow and fear.  When I got to here I realised I was scarcely breathing, not because I was captured by the thrill of the story but because I was captured. I invite you to also be captured. And I promise I will deliver no spoilers. Continue reading ‘An Ordinary Madness’ – Lorna Hallahan Launches ‘The Anchoress’

Deeper Water

cov_deeperwaterIt is hard to believe that Deeper Water is only Jessie Cole’s second novel. Her prose is assured and graceful as she expands the ripples of a stranger’s arrival ever wider across a remote New South Wales community. Cole explores issues of family, identity and environment in a story that swells slowly but surely towards overflowing its banks.

Mema’s family have always been on the outskirts, both physically and emotionally. She now lives alone with her mother, with brothers and fathers conspicuously absent. The two women exist in a simple, silent routine, carrying out farmyard duties on their property, until a car runs off a bridge in a flood. Mema is forced to expand her horizons beyond her innocent, rustic lifestyle. We develop an intimate understanding of this naïve, gentle and caring individual who discovers a depth of feeling within herself that she never thought possible.

This is a novel of truth, power and beauty, soaked through with a lush sense of a place that is truly Cole’s own. It is the best Australian book I’ve read this year; sensual, evocative and broad in scope, it is definitely one to lose yourself in.