Author Archive

READING OUT LOUD – OCEAN THEME

This group was our annual weekend at Cunjurong Point. It was also our annual soirée where we bring along several pieces to read out loud to each other. Usually we do this at the Xmas event, however this year many were away so we will spend a leisurely weekend doing it instead. I was looking forward to it, as our previous ones were great. If you cant remember, like me, we did one with a love theme which my review makes sound so great. We have also done two others which also sound lovely – part 1 and part 2.

With these pleasant memories in mind we chose an ocean theme for this one. Each bookgrouper came along prepared to read two 5 minute pieces of their choice over the course of the weekend. They were extracts or whole pieces but with some connection to the ocean.

It led us to discuss – What does the ocean mean to you: infinity; horizons stretching endlessly; waves crashing ceaselessly; uncountable sand grains forever replenished? Or is it fear: that mighty power against tiny time bound weaklings, alone in the vast blue deep? Just a few reflections of bookgroupers on the concept of ocean as expressed by poets and writers such as Pablo Neruda Herman Melville and Ernest Hemingway.

Being mostly a bunch of Australians i was surprised by the prominence of fear in the concept of ocean. For me it’s more about infinity; like the endless flat far outback horizon; or the ever changing, endless possibilities, in a baby’s face; or the incomprehensible time and distance of the stars.

The ocean reminds me that we are small against the backdrop of the universe. I find that more liberating than intimidating. It tells me not to take myself, or anything human, too seriously. We are transient.

Mark assembled all the quotes below on an ocean theme to inspire bookgroupers on their choice of readings.

Stimulated by our session, and to apologise for not choosing a reading, I have attempted poems; of a sort, even several sorts, unfortunately for the reader sometimes in the same poem; on the theme and inserted them below the quotes.

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
Mahatma Gandhi

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.”
John F. Kennedy

“If you live a life of make-believe, your life isn’t worth anything until you do something that does challenge your reality. And to me, sailing the open ocean is a real challenge, because it’s life or death.”
Morgan Freeman

“A beach is not only a sweep of sand, but shells of sea creatures, the sea glass, the seaweed, the incongruous objects washed up by the ocean.”
Henry Grunwald

“Being out there in the ocean, God’s creation, it’s like a gift He has given us to enjoy.”
Bethany Hamilton

“Ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time.”
H. P. Lovecraft

“Why is it that scuba divers and surfers are some of the strongest advocates of ocean conservation? Because they’ve spent time in and around the ocean, and they’ve personally seen the beauty, the fragility, and even the degradation of our planet’s blue heart.”
Sylvia Earle

“There’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.”
Sarah Kay

“Ocean: A body of water occupying two-thirds of a world made for man – who has no gills.”
Ambrose Bierce

“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is clearly Ocean.”
Arthur C. Clarke

“The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings eternal joy to the soul.”
“The sea lives in every one of us.”
Robert Wyland

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”
Isak Dinesen

“So that the monotonous fall of the waves on the beach, which for the most part beat a measured and soothing tattoo to her thoughts seemed consolingly to repeat over and over again.”
Virginia Woolf

“In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans.”
Kahlil Gibran

“Even the upper end of the river believes in the ocean.”
William Stafford

“The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.”
Henry Beston

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Unknown Author

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
“A lot of people attack the sea, I make love to it.”
Jacques Cousteau

“A pool just isn’t the same as the ocean. It has no energy. No life.”
Linda Gerber

“The ocean is a place of skin, rich outer membranes hiding thick juicy insides, laden with the soup of being.”
Vera Nazarian

“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think.”
Robert Henri

“The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”
Kate Chopin

“The great sea makes one a great sceptic.”
Richard Jefferies

“The sea is as near as we come to another world.”
Anne Stevenson

“He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea.”
George Herbert

“To me the sea is a continual miracle; The fishes that swim, the rocks, the motion of the waves, the ships with men in them. What stranger miracles are there?”
Walt Whitman

“The ocean is a central image. It is the symbolism of a great journey.”
Enya

“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.”
E. E. Cummings

“The sea! the sea! the open sea! The blue, the fresh, the ever free!”
Bryan W. Procter

“Eternity begins and ends with the ocean’s tides.”
Unknown Author

“Even castles made from sand fall to the ocean.”
Jimi Hendrix

“The sea complains upon a thousand shores.”
Alexander Smith

“The ocean is a desert with its life underground and the perfect disguise above”

A Horse with no Name by America (1972)

“Who hath desired the Sea? – the sight of salt water unbounded – The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber wind-hounded?”

The Sea and the Hills by Rudyard Kipling

“When beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.”

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

“Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.”

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

“Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very very deep; so deep indeed, that no cable can fathom it: many church steeples piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above. There dwell the Sea King and his subjects.”

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen

“The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.”

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

HEALTH WARNING – for those easily offended by bad taste there is homemade so-called poetry below so if you are at all an appreciator of fine literature you might be better off stopping here

OCEAN

The Sun whispers as it warms,

‘this love will destroy you’.

The young Rocks cry

‘Love is eternal.

We want children’.

The Sun, ever the oracle, pronounces

‘your children will be numberless

but you, will see none’.

Water, the beloved, knows this to be true.

Only sand and soil will remain.

……

The rocks have many lovers

The Wind the Water, Waves,

the Plants and the Ants,

caressing every crevice, stroking every crag.

The Sun whispers

‘these lovers will destroy you’.

The Rocks don’t listen.

Doomed lovers never do.

Love is eternal.

Live in the moment.

The Sun is right.

The Rocks make love,

but their lovers plan.

Only sand and soil to remain.

The meek will create the earth.

But the Rocks are also right.

Their love will find a way.

The way of burial, fire and rebirth.

The sun whispers, again.

The rocks don’t listen, again.

Love is eternal, again.

…..

White soft foam lays seige to sand.

Grain by grain it wins the land.

Is it the nature of ocean to eat land?

Wedge tailed eagle meets kangaroo

From a planetary point of view?

The beach a half finished meal.

The diner part way through.

To us, such eternity is out of reach,

We see no diner, or cafe

shut without clearing away.

The unfinished plate

is our timeless beach.

Always was, always will.

……

Time is change and will proceed.

Permission unneeded. Perception unheeded.

No stop. No pause. No wait. No hesitate.

Just go. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Wave in. Wave out.

Endless wash, endlessness.

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May 22, 2019 at 5:03 am Leave a comment

2028 by KEN SAUNDERS

A satire on Australian politics? You could be excused for thinking no-one could satirise it more than it does itself. But this book was wonderful, and a real contribution. And the critics agree, although not all of them. The SYDNEY arts guide, and the stillnotfussed Blogger loved it, but not the green left weekly.

It’s 2028 and the coalition prime minister has decided to go to the polls seeking a third term, because the opposition is in disarray and therefore its a great opportunity. He has his closest advisers in a room planning the arrangements for the election announcement.

As it turns out things do not go well for the PM. Mostly due to a new and hitherto unknown political force that emerges throughout the book. As these events unfold there are a lot of laughs and heaps of great political ideas. It may be an unlikely story, and rather utopian, but its wonderfully told and lots of fun. In no way a preachy manifesto.

It’s only 2028 so the future painted is very recognisable but with some very humorous and generally believable ‘innovations’.

• There are Parkies which are parking meters that let you choose to pay a bit more and then spin with the chance of getting your money back

• Australia Post has changed to drone delivery. But the drones have cameras and microphones, so the media networks have a contract with Australia Post and wherever anything is happening they can get a drone to go there, take footage and do interviews. RIP the roving, on the spot, reporter.

• The Chinese communist party has business interests everywhere. So it has corporatised and franchised itself into separate corporate entities in every nation, but this means each nation’s franchise compete with each other, and with the Chinese branch

There are also a lot of great characters that are all very likeable. The tone is very hitchhikers guide, terry pratchett and Monty Python with all the main characters having that self deprecating sense of humour, not taking themselves too seriously, who’s is so common in those books.

Along with the fun, the characters, the futurism and the politics, there is also an unlikely love story, a remarkable plot twist, and a satisfying ending.

We had the author attend bookgroup. That was great as we all loved the book and he was a lovely fellow. It was super interesting to hear some of the background, both to the ideas behind the book and the process of getting it published.

Apparently there is another book in the works so definitely one to look out for.

May 22, 2019 at 4:50 am Leave a comment

THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY by MICHAEL CHABON

Not many of us got very far with this one. I am not 100% sure why as it wasn’t written badly. Everyone seemed to agree it was ok, quite well written, not offensive, but nevertheless it did not grab our attention or make us want to read more. I felt it was yet another version of the familiar story about WW2 era Jewish émigrés to the US. Obviously that is an important and interesting aspect of 20th century history, but it has been told so many times in every medium of popular and high brow culture that its impossible to say anything new about it.

One bookgrouper, the only one who actually completed the book, said it was a book about men for men. In particular Jewish men who lived in New York in the 30s and 40s and 50s, or men that have an interest in the stage magic of that time, or the comic books of that time. So if you fit any of those categories it might be just right for you.

He said it was about men and for men in two senses. Firstly there are no women characters in the book, so its clearly about men. Secondly the physical action and emotional action arises from typical male inabilities to communicate and so on.

I did read a small part of it which was mostly set in Prague just before the war. That bit was good reading i thought because life in Prague seemed so normal. Nothing described was obviously part of the eastern bloc. It felt like you could’ve been in any European city at that time of the 20th century. I have no way of knowing if that’s a true reflection of how life really was there and then, or just something in head of the writer, but it was interesting.

Given so few of us read it I thought I should refer you to some people who hopefully have. This is wiki‘s take of the story. Both the guardian and the independent were impressed.

December 29, 2018 at 6:36 am Leave a comment

SLEEPWALKING LAND by MIA COUTO

We finally got around to reading a book from a country we haven’t covered yet in book group. It was to be the 1992 novel sleepwalking land by mozambican writer mia couto. Which has been described as ‘an exceptionally beautiful nightmare’, it was translated in to english in 2006 and he won the neustadt prize for literature in 2014.

However, it proved very hard to come by. So some of us ended up reading the wrong book, mainly (only) me. From what others said however, it appears The Blind Fisherman, which i read, was very similar to Sleepwalking Land

They both had the same sort of impact on readers, taking us to a very unfamiliar place, and generating a strong feeling that: I am in a foreign land; this is a culture I know nothing about; dont understand; and may never.

The stories were very strange. They probably could be called magic realism. They were set in rural Mozambique, during the war with the Renamo when it was raiding throughout the countryside, with the aid of apartheid era South Africa. As a result there is lots of violence, and uncertainty for all the characters and communities described.

However the disconcerting otherworldlyness is not from the violence. Its because the stories are full of characters, both human and animal, with strange beliefs and strange powers. At least the characters believe they, other characters, or particular animals, have strange powers. The stories weave these beliefs and together with the characters’ understanding of the detailed racial and class hierarchies of post-colonial Mozambique; and their efforts to survive in a war smashed economy.

The effect of all this on the reader is to clearly communicate the feeling that the characters have no clue what has been happening to them, the people they love, and their communities; or what might happen next. I felt it gave me some insight in to that life, just trying to get by however you can. How part of that might be developing strange beliefs about magic; both as some kind of hope, but also to explain the inexplicable and the inexcusable.

I felt it was super interesting for that reason. Even though everything described was so strange and alien, especially the magic, it did give you a feeling for what it might have been like to live in those communities at that time. It certainly didn’t make you want to do that. So it was a real window in another world, which was exactly what we wanted with the idea of reading a book from the country we knew very little about.

There is a very good, short and much more literary review of the blind fisherman at this blog.

December 29, 2018 at 6:26 am Leave a comment

A LONG WAY FROM HOME

Bookgroupers loved Peter Carey’s new one A Long Way from Home. Although they felt the first of the second half were quite different.

The first half was a rollicking easy-going story set in 50s Australia. In particular people with good memories of 50s and 60s Australia said it had lots of iconic imagery from that era such as the radio quiz shows, and the Redex Trial (a round Australia car race run between 1953 and 1998) that the book’s plot it’s based around. So it’s a lot of fun, particularly for people from that era.

While bookgroupers found the second half to be less fun, a different book according to one bookgrouper, you could also say its more interesting. It gets into the difficulties that are as integral to that era of Australia as the fun iconic images of the first half. It covers in a very interesting and human, and well researched way, indigenous issues. It puts gender and relationship issues in clear focus and even gives plenty of space to the shysters, showmen and ‘colourful racing identities’ that were so a part of those years.

These are all the things that we Australians, at least left leaning ones anyway, now criticise the 50s for in hindsight. So in that sense the first half is the good parts to the 50s and the second half is all the stuff that 50s Australia swept under the carpet.

In addition to the politics i really felt the characters were marvellous. I hope it’s made into a movie as they are big entertaining characters, with great visual aspects corresponding with their personalities and roles in the story. I felt they were really archetypal characters from that time. They managed to represent and incorporate all the big themes and stories of that period within their personal histories, but in a way that did not feel forced or cliched. In particular the main character, Willy. His life story was very cleverly constructed to encapsulate the 50s, in all their complexity.

The book is presumably also quite autobiographical, as it is set in Bacchus March where Carey is actually from, and he is a baby boomer so it is set in the period in which he grew up. In addition to this personal background he does appear to have researched very thoroughly all the content in relation to the Redex Trial, cars of the period, and the indigenous side of the book. So it’s very interesting from that point of view.

The only criticism that the group could agree on was that the ending seemed quite sudden and contrived. As if Carey had run out of time on his contract or reached his word limit, so he just needed to conclude the book. We felt the ending isn’t satisfying and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the book. However he might argue, accurately, that life is like that, and so is 21st century Australia. We are still struggling with these issues. An unfinished work, like the book.

There were also great moments in beauty in the book; the description of the romance between Willy and fellow quiz contestant, Miss Clover, is gorgeous especially their first night together; and there are some great observations; along with all the serious matters. When it does deal with big issues, i felt it brought them to the page in a new fresh way. The prime example being Australia’s frontier war history. Carey finds a way to tell the story of how that war history continues right down into very recent decades, and does it in a very accessible way. There is also very strong female side to the book. All the the women have a lot of ‘agency’ as French philosophers might say, while also being heavily trapped by the attitudes of the time.

So overall, while it is a very worthy book, as you might expect from a Booker Prize winner, it is also unexpectedly interesting and a lot of fun to.

I strongly recommend it.

October 24, 2018 at 7:55 am Leave a comment

THE NORTH WATER by IAN McGUIRE

This was a very divisive book for bookgroup. A couple of bookgroupers really loved it whilst the rest of us hated it.

The main issue was the violence. I only read the first chapter, which is about five pages. In that short time the main character manages to kill two people and rape one of them – a young boy. After that I decided I did not need any more of this in my life. From what others said the violence continues throughout, with no let up, and includes violence against animals as well as men.

The question bookgroup asked was – is there any point to all of this violence? Is there any difference between it and pop culture books and movies that are full of violence for violence sake, except perhaps the violence here is much worse in every way? Does the violence serve any purpose?

Those of us who hated the book felt it served no purpose. The book appears to be set in the early 1800s (according to The Guardian its actually the 1850s), briefly in whaling communities, but mostly a group of men on a whaling boat. We felt we knew what those communities were like. Intensely poverty stricken and unequal. Most people were powerless and therefore both subject to violence and perpetrators of violence – nothing new there.

Some of those who liked the book felt it was a useful thing for the book to point out just how violent those times were. Others who liked the book felt the violence was beautifully described- poetic.

Interestingly the two reviews I glanced at, The Guardian and the London Review of Books, reacted much the same way as bookgroup. They both agreed it is intensely dark and relentlessly violent. But the LRB wanted to point out that the writing was interesting, while the Guardian said it was unredeemably bleak.

Personally I would suggest there are much more profitable things you can do with you time than read this book, but apparently some people do enjoy it.

September 1, 2018 at 8:58 am 1 comment

THE OPTICIAN OF LAMPEDUSA by EMMA JANE KIRBY

The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby- see the Guardian’s Review – Was a very detailed and moving portrayal of North African boat people being shipwrecked in the Mediterranean, and some of them being rescued by italian passersby – one being the optician of the title.

The book details the impact on the optician and his friends across a full year after the rescue. In this way it gives some insight into what the actual story is behind the news headlines.

The bookgroup was very split on it. One half of the group, predominantly the women, thought it was great. A great insight into one persons experience of a tragic event and an insight into refugee issues. The other half of the group mostly men felt it didn’t deal with the issues at all. They also questioned whether it was actually non-fiction. Feeling imstead that really it was fictional in the sense that it was the journalist imagining what was going on in the head of the optician. Whereas the pro group felt it was the journalist describing what the optician had said to her, and it was real. It was actually what the optician was thinking.

I confess to being in the anti group. My problem was that I’m not sure what the point of it was. We have all seen the headlines a lot and I don’t think it takes much imagination to imagine what the events are really like behind those headlines. What impact it has on the people on the scene. I guess maybe some people don’t make the effort to do that, so maybe for them it will really help imagine what it is like to be involved.

For me I didn’t think it added anything. It certainly doesn’t change the political response, so I’m not sure what the point is of spending time wallowing in the pain and sorrow of tragic events like this, which you do reading this book. It does nothing to really change anything.

To me it feels a little bit self-indulgent to wallow in the sorrow of it when there’s nothing we can really do anyway. There are so many other tragic events in the world every day, many on a much larger scale than the migrant boat wrecks in the Mediterranean. You could easily write a book like this on the sorrow of malaria, diarrhoea, TB, or one of the various wars going on around the world, or just just any neighbourhood of extreme poverty. so why wallow in this particular tragedy in this particular place. it doesn’t seem to serve any particular purpose.

However, it is really well written and it does really take you there in a vivid way and gives you stories about the background and the lives of people involved, and their responses. It’s good to get that level of detail behind a headline.

My reaction to the optician himself was similar to my reaction to the book. I was a bit annoyed at his focus on the individuals. he seemed almost incapable really of seeing the bigger picture and seeing the complexity. Instead he was constantly complaining about ‘europe’ not doing something as if it’s obvious what could be done. The best example of this really was his desire to go back and rescue more when told they are all dead. he seemed vey naive, wilfully so.

A good thing though about the book was the description of post-traumatic stress, the impact on the lives of the optician and his wife, their sleep and so on. Although it was a bit frustrating. They didn’t seem like they sought help for all of that which was the obvious thing to do

Another thing that i found annoying about the book was its focus on the optician and the Italians. it really didn’t say much about what the African survivors went through in the 12 months after the rescue covered by the book. It did not go into at all the reasons why they left Eritrea. it really could’ve said a lot about this issue. It really is interesting and makes the Mediterranean boat people a completely different issue from the Syrians coming into eastern Europe and from the boat people in Australia and elsewhere.

However I think in the end the pro group probably won me over. I think a lot of my issues are criticising the book or something it was not trying to be. In particular it says on the cover that it is a novella. That is the author admitting that it’s a work of fiction. Also inside the front cover it says the book talks about the optician and not about all the other issues, that’s its goal. Those are the answers to me and the other people who criticised it. So I think i could recommend it to people who want an eyewitness account of what it’s like to be involved in those very tragic scenes that you see on the nightly news, but not to someone wanting a broad account of the issues behind those tragic scenes.

July 20, 2018 at 3:59 am Leave a comment

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