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writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :MM’s Bookshelf:

Review: Helen Garner’s “The First Stone: Some Questions about Sex and Power”

helen garner the first stoneMM has recommended this so often and so strongly that I finally picked it up. I knew it had been controversial, and that HG had had a literary brawl with a spiteful ex-lecturer of mine (Jenna Mead), and I couldn’t be bothered to be involved in the controversy. This book is Garner’s exploration of a sexual harassment case at Ormond College in Melbourne Uni in the early ’90s, and her premise was “Has feminism come to this?” – that is, women taking male academics to the court for squeezing an undergrad’s breast at a party. After a distasteful 70pp attempt, I could no longer be bothered humouring Garner’s retrograde opinions. Once she’d said that men are expected to read women’s minds to know they don’t want sexual advances in trains, etc – bullshit! How many times have men been told explicitly that their hand- and eye-contact is unwanted?! – and that she couldn’t understand why the young women were so angry that they’d taken this perfectly nice man to court – because, simply put, women are never not afraid of sexual violence by men, in case Garner hadn’t noticed that – she’d worn out my patience and her credibility. Pathetic. Abandoned.  Be off with you. (I have, however, remained irritated at those 70pp since I dumped the book, and hope this review gets its unwelcome presence out of my head. Bah.)

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
A couple of unenthusiastic bed reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Feminism’s work is far from done
Who I’d recommend it to:
Conservatives wanting a feminist to bolster their misogynist claims
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; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; The Bone People by Keri Hulme

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Review: Kate Grenville’s “Searching for the Secret River”

kate grenville searching for the secret riverIn need of some intellectual fluff, I moved onto this totally-not-urgent loan and devoured it over a couple of days. This is Grenville’s writerly analysis of her own research and writing process for the acclaimed Secret River, light in tone but sensitive in detail, thoroughly thought provoking. I appreciated it as a white Australian, a writer and a reader. Highly recommended.

***The forthcoming Terania Times will carry a fleshier version of this review.***

 Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
A few reads, mostly bedside
Where it went: Home, but I think a copy should head to KLM
Reminds me of/that: Oh, I do love a writerly read
Who I’d recommend it to: Historians and writers, Aussies and readers
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; Wonderful Women by the Water by Monika Fagerholm; The Stone Key by Isobelle Carmody

Review: George Orwell’s “Selected Essays”

george orwell selected essaysAfter an embarrassingly long time, I finally finished this one; it deserved more sustained and sharpened attention than it received. These essays, published in the 30s and 40s, are a sophisticated and excellently written analysis of mass literature for boys, the falling standards of English writing (were GO to read us now!), killing elephants, and freedom of expression for writers, etc, all submitted to a careful thinking-left examination. Although each text was quite dense, I enjoyed the writing and the thorough subtlety of Orwell’s thoughts, and it was interesting to read nonfiction that evidently fed into his famous fiction (1984, Animal Farm). Recommended.

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Ooh, months of handbag reads, until I took it in hand this week and gave it a serious reading to
Where it went:
Home
Reminds me of/that: How far the intellectual left has dropped out of mainstream public discourse – and how refreshing an Orwell-like analysis would be today
Who I’d recommend it to:
Those with a historic political/literary sensibility
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch;The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Anna Funder’s “Stasiland”

This is one of those books that’s been lurking large on my Get Around To List… and I’m so glad I finally did the getting. Funder was living in (old) East Berlin in the early 1990s. Upon meeting some victims of the GDR’s Stasi (secret police), she decided to investigate the organisation, its employees, and its reach in daily East German life. Casually but insightfully written, undergirded by thorough research, and delightfully not about the author at all (although she was present in her own story), this is an excellent piece of investigative journalism made human by its sensitive prose-portraits. Superb. A fabulous reminder of how much I enjoy dry Australian journalism, rather than its always slightly twee US cousin. I’m so glad Funder’s new novel is also on the Bedside Shelf, coming up sometime soon…

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: As many reads as I could squeeze in in lieu of assignments
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: Eric Ketalaar’s 2006 essay, “Access: The Democratic Imperative” – an excellent piece that has been one of the few moments of inspiration in my uni course (sigh)
Who I’d recommend it to:
Hard to pin down… but it would have to be those interested in contemporary politics and the humans it makes us
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell

Review: Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

Brought to the screen with our Audrey as will-o’-the-wisp “Miss Holiday Golightly, Traveller”. Capote’s Holly is a little sharper, a little less naïve than Ms Hepburn’s, and the novella’s a casual yet well-crafted little piece (also accompanied by three good stories). Of Capote’s other works, I’ve only read In Cold Blood (truly excellent), and the pair have easily convinced me to seek more of his finely honed writing. This one was a pleasure.

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: One bed-read on a lazy Sunday afternoon
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone and no-one in particular
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner (I’ve been doing a good job at ignoring them, haven’t I?)

Review: Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle”

Lent with high praise by MM, I hereby declare that her claims were not exaggerated. This was an excellent novel, absorbing, wry, beautifully written, and with a core that’s a lot more sophisticated than it looks. Cassandra lives in greater-than-genteel poverty in a mouldering castle with her family. The new owners arrive unexpectedly, romances ensure, dreams are woven and wither, hope prevails. Narrated entirely through Cassandra’s successive journals, the first half of the novel is a quirky but largely standard rags-to-riches romance. Once Midsummer’s come and gone, however, and love is being misplaced hither and thither, both Cassandra and her world become complex and nuanced and far from saccharine. I wasn’t altogether convinced by our heroine’s Great Love (one kiss did all that?!), but the scene with the wirelesses is wrenching and the multiple heartbreaks are all too messily plausible. Why does the most worthless individual always get what she wants? Great book. Read it.

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: One engrossed bed-read
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Just about anyone: it’s light and passionate at the same time, a rare mix
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Stella Gibbons’ “Cold Comfort Farm”

I really have become a farm girl. Here was this book… published in 1932… on the 178 list among the *cough* best of the best… and just because it has a pretentious London lass sneering at her entire country family at (symbolic) Cold Comfort Farm in (symbolic) Howling, “deepest Sussex”, I was all insulted. A comedy, no less, meant to be awfully good, just awfully. Instead, I thought young whatshername (already forgotten) was a right busy-bodied prat coming in and fixing up her family’s life to suit her fine sensibilities — always with aplomb, of course, good dress sense and blithe unconcern for anyone else’s plans. It was meant to be a spoof of idyllic countryside family sagas, but it just seemed like bitchy city folk getting their laughs off of country people then, when they were bored, (literally) flying back to Town to romance and parties. Not recommended.

Post-Script: Curses! It’s not on the 178 list after all! But it is on the BBC Challenge which I’m also slowly digesting… 

Where it came from: MM’s Bookshelf
Time taken to read: Various bed-nights and a bath
Where it went to: Back home
Reminds me of: Laurie Lee’s “Cider With Rosie”
Who I’d recommend it to:
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “The Plumed Serpent” by D.H. Lawrence; “The Reivers” by William Faulkner