writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :DC’s Bookshelf:

Review: Angela Savage’s “Behind the Night Bazaar”

angela savage behind the night bazaarSomehow, as part of the dinner-table conversation with DC and offspring, this ended up in my bag to take home. Third attempt at crime fiction this week, and thank the deity that this one paid off. Australian PI Jayne Keeney visits her Canadian mate Didier in Chiang Mai, only to find her R&R break disrupted by murder most foul. Well-written; solidly political re AIDS, sex work, ex-pats in the “Third” World; culturally sensitive and observant re Thais from what I could tell; a decent unravelling of nasty crime. And even better, straight author and detective engaging with gay culture, AIDS and homophobia in meaningful ways. Fab. Hope I meet the author again at a DC party so I can tell her my thoughts in person.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair and torchlight bed reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: Thank god genre fiction can think
Who I’d recommend it to:
Crime readers seeking a bit of political guts
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley; When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön; Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) by Sandy Balfour


Review: “Moments of Desire: Sex and Sensuality by Australian Feminist Writers”, edited by Susan Hawthorne and Jenny Pausacker

hawthorne, pausacker (ed.) moments of desireI was delighted to relocate this on DC’s bookshelf, possibly hers, possibly mine, but gifted to me now. I’d be on the look-out for some months, wanting to track down Hawthorne’s poem ‘Erotica Alphabetica’ that I’d read and remembered as an undergraduate: it happily stood the test of time. I also enjoyed Rosemary Jones’ prose-poem ‘The Woman in the Moon’ (source of the citation below). Unfortunately, that was about it. I found almost none of the pieces erotic, which is always a risk of “erotic” writing, but worse, I found that they nearly all were too damned cerebral, thinking too damned much, working too damned hard to break down the stereotypes of what constituted the erotic. (Which, fair enough, has been feminism’s modus operandi – making the status quo uncomfortable with itself.) Worse, even, most pieces weren’t actually terribly good, and I eventually got too bored/irritated to keep reading. I will keep it for the sake of those two pieces, however, and it makes a reasonable addition to the feminist / lesbian / women’s / writerly history section of the Keeper Shelf.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf as a gift
Time and manner of reading:
Kaleidoscopic bed reads with a final train frustration
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: “She was dream / she was silver / she was tough” (p.66)
Reminds me of/that: Erotica is *terribly* subjective
Who I’d recommend it to:
Historically feministly curious
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac

Review: Elizabeth Sharpe’s “The Secrets of the Kaula Circle”

elizabeth sharpe the secrets of the kuala circleA very strange book, recommended by DC as mystical marginalia after we had conversed on Alexandra David-Neel’s offerings. This one, in four parts: 1) an introduction explaining Sharpe’s historical credibility as an Indiophile and investigator of Tibetan/Buddhist/Hindu rituals in the early 20th century (she even corresponded with Mahatma Ghandi and Swami Vivekananda on matters spiritual); 2) a breathless lady’s “novel” as the character Mary La Mont, reporting on the dangers of tantric practices and warning young women against being duped by manipulative lamas (all without mentioning tantra or sex with anything nearing explicitness; the subject was, in fact, almost entirely a mystery but for the introduction; she did manage to include a swipe at Aleister Crowley – here known as ‘666’ – and his practices); 3) a fictional postscript by some old India hand who stiff-upper-lippedly protected the fictional La Mont’s papers from fearful, thieving lamas and gurus; 4) an esoteric document outlining the breath-yoga of the sun and moon, in 154 numbered, Wittgensteinian paragraphs. As I say, most odd. This reader wishes Sharpe had been less circumspect and more titillating: she was clearly afraid to infect young ladies by providing any description of the weird practices that could corrupt them unto death. Methinks this is for the dedicated occultists only, and best of luck to them.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Bed reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: “Later I knew the meaning. I was not to be killed: but—keep away from the monks, my sisters—monks, especially whose lips have turned black.” (p.31) [Apparently they want to eat pure ladies’ “glands” to nourish their own longevity.]
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:
Cognoscienti of arcana and the occult
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac

Review: Timothy Leary‘s “The Politics of Ecstasy”

timothy leary politics of ecstasyThis collection of essays and diatribes was first published in 1970, and it includes a decade’s worth of Leary’s writings and speeches as the ideologue of the “tune in, turn on, drop out” school of drugs. Initially a medical pioneer — he took his first trip in 1960 in a Mexican town I used to live in, then began working on hallucinogenics as psychiatrist at MIT — Leary soon became the guru for the psychadelic movement. This book is damned impressive, in that a) anyone who has taken as many trips as he had can still be this articulate, but more so b) in addition to being a master orator and deviser of soundbytes, Leary’s political and social analysis is comprehensive and largely sound. His predictions for the future — e.g., 40 acre forest properties where trippers can go turn on in their lunch-hour — haven’t quite come true, but then whose have? And endearingly, he’s so tongue in cheek, and clearly doesn’t take himself or his drug movement too seriously. His wife gives her plug for him on the back of the book, and the foundation he and his tripper med buddies founded, chose as its name a “wry double conditional” (IFIF) for the International Foundation for Internal Freedom. Enjoyable but ranty, which is why I gave up about half-way; still recommended, though.

Where it came from: DC’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: One ? Two ? Months of kaleidoscopic samples, alternately amused, bored or impressed
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Fifty years is a hell of a long time in drug culture, but it really isn’t in terms of political growth
Who I’d recommend it to: Readers seeking a historical reference on drugs, authoritarianism, etc.
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Review: Ruth Park’s “The Harp in the South”

ruth park harp in the southLoaned by DC when I was last near her bookshelf, and due – any month now, so they say – to come up for Bookclub, I cracked it and decided to pull this off the Don’t Touch Pile. This is the first volume of the Darcy family’s life in the post-WWII slum of Surry Hills – Roie’s romances, Hughie’s adventures with the drink and the lottery, Mumma’s relationship with Grandma, Dolour’s school excursion to the beach as funded by the local bordello mistress. Excellent to read in terms of Sydney’s industrial history, and absorbing in that it reminded me that Australia too has (and has had) poor white folk (compared to our contemporary image of ourselves a bourgeois, urban and professional), and slum community stories from anywhere around the world have the same gutsy flavour of tough love and struggle. No modern Australian family would want to be heard slagging off at each other with the smart-arsey love of the Darcys, we’re too bloody proper nowadays — and our turns of phrase are nowhere near as picturesque. A damned good read, recommended.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair and bed reads, long overdue
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Cloudstreet, of course, but this is both grittier and pithier
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers looking for mid-20th-century Aussie life
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf

Review: Helene Hanff’s “84 Charing Cross Road” & “The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street”

I needed a book to remind me of what I love, and this was the one to do it. Helene Hanff was a New York writer who began ordering antiquarian books from a bookshop in London; the first book of this double edition is the collected correspondence of 20 years between Helene and the staff and friends of Marks & Co. Booksellers (particularly Frank Doel, the chief buyer). HH’s letters are full of zesty NY slang, and the comparison with the restrained, dry British wit of her pen pals is most entertaining. While the first book is a hymn to bibliophilic relationships, the sequel is a love letter to London: the publication of 84 Charing Cross Road was HH’s ticket there, and this rapturous memoir ensued from her literary and social forays. A simply fabulous double-whammy, laugh-out-loud funny, charming, a testament by and for book worshippers. I can’t express either my delight or my praise enough, just read it.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Bookended bed-reads, with great delight and some almost tears
Where it went to: Home via MM, I think
Reminds me of: That Guernsey epistolary novel – now overshadowed by this real, even wittier correspondence
Who I’d recommend it to: Booklovers losing hope in the face of the digital onslaught
Also reading:
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Margaret Hawker’s “The Great Photographers: Julia Margaret Cameron”

Julia Margaret Cameron was given her first camera in 1863, at the age of 48, and over the next 15 years took portraits of Tennyson, Alice (of in Wonderland fame), Longfellow, John Herschel (but not his sister Caroline, who was the first to spot a comet), Ellen Terry, Thomas Carlyle, and other male luminaries and female beauties of her social circle. She photographed in the era and sometimes the style of the Pre-Raphaelites, and her portraits are apparently unique for the time. Many of them are quite beautiful and particularly revelatory of the sitter’s character, and her work illustrated an edition of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. It was a pleasure to add her work to my understanding of the Pre-Raphaelites and their aesthetic, and to my knowledge of photographic techniques and history.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: At the kitchen table, in one commentary-sharing go
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of: The fact that famous, successful women artists are deliberately forgotten in the greater blokocracy
Who I’d recommend it to: Lovely addition to your knowledge of mid-19th century British artists, poets, etc.
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner; Moby Dick by Herman Melville; Working Hot by Mary Fallon