Tuesday, October 21, 2014

from Australia: the 2014 Prime Minister's Literary Awards shortlists




I found an article during my morning coffee-drinking, slow wake-up time today that pointed me to the website of the Prime Minister of Australia . It reveals the shortlists for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards, which "recognise the role Australian writers play in enlightening and entertaining us, reflecting on our history and taking our stories to the world." Winners will be selected by the end of the year.

I'll just post a couple of lists that drew my interest:


Fiction
A World of Other People, by Steven Carroll
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan  -- note:  moving quickly to the top of  tbr pile
The Night Guest, by Fiona McFarlane  -- note: if you haven't read this book yet, it is most excellent
Coal Creek, by Alex Miller 
Belomor, by Nicolas Rothwell 

Non-Fiction
Moving Among Strangers, by Gabrielle Carey  -- note: a little gem of a book, actually
 The Lucky Culture, by Nick Cater
Citizen Emperor, by Philip Dwyer
Rendezvous with Destiny, by Michael Fullilove
Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John, by Helen Trinca

Prize for Australian History
Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, by Joan Beaumont 
First Victory 1914, by Mike Carlton 
Australia’s Secret War: How unionists sabotaged our troops in World War II, by Hal G.P. Colebatch Arthur Phillip: Sailor, Mercenary, Governor, Spy, by Michael Pembroke
 The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, by Clare Wright  -- note: a huge book, but I can't wait to read it!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

rereading... it might just be a good thing






No, I don't have a fixation on Sarah Waters right now, but an online group I belong to is reading her The Little Stranger this month as a Halloween read sort of thing so I'm rereading it.  Coming at it again after years away and with a little more reading experience under my belt is a huge plus -- I'm seeing more this time around than I did earlier.  This whole rereading thing started me thinking about which books I'd really want to pick up again -- so I had to ask myself which ones I'd be most likely to be the most serious about and here's what I came up with:

  • Nabokov - Lolita --  I seriously didn't understand the concept of unreliable narrators when I read this, so I was stupid enough to believe what I was told
  • Camus - The Plague --  I know a little more about the history of Occupied France & the Holocaust now than I did when I first read this book so I probably won't be shaking my head this time around wondering WTF did I just read
  • Mervyn Peake - the complete Gormenghast trilogy --  yeah. Like I fully understood it at the age of 17-- you know, when I was so sure that I was so sophisticated and so intellectually gifted as do all 17 year old girls in their fourth year of  French club
  • E.M. Forster - A Passage to India -- I read this after seeing the movie on television when I was younger and then became upset that the book was so complicated and not like the film
  • Truman Capote - In Cold Blood -- Just to see why people hate it so much. I liked it, so I'm sure I  must have missed something.  
 I'm sure there are more, but those came straight from the top of my head.




from the nonfiction page: Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France, by Caroline Moorehead

9780062202475
Harper, 2014
384 pp

arc - from the publisher, thank you!

"Parallel to the Map of Vichy is a map of decency." 

Now here's a book definitely worth every second of time I put into it. It's also one that stayed with me for some time after finishing it.

In the author's Foreword to this book, she notes that  in 1953 an article appeared in Peace News about a pacifist pastor named André Trocmé in the French parish of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon who "helped save some 5,000 hunted communists, Freemasons, resisters and Jews from deportation to the extermination camps of occupied Poland."  According to this piece, Trocmé had instilled his belief in non-violent, peaceful resistance among his parishioners, and it was in this spirit that they were led to take in, hide, and sometimes get people whose names "appeared on Nazi death lists" safely over the Swiss border.  Over two decades later, in  1988,  Le Chambon was designated by Yad Vashem as the only village in the world to be  "Righteous Among Nations," an appellation that  in combination with a number of articles, documentaries, and memoirs about this remote village in the Massif Central, perpetuated an ongoing  "myth" about Trocmé's role and that of Le Chambon as well.  

But there's a problem here:  by focusing solely on this small, remote village and this peace-loving Protestant pastor, over the years the  "myth" surrounding him has ignored a lot of other people -- those from other places, of other beliefs, and even a number of  humanitarian authorities who literally risked everything to help save people designated for the death camps of the Holocaust.


If you want to read more about this book (and I really do think it's a fine study),  I've posted about it on my nonfiction page.  As I noted there, I'm not a huge reader of  histories about WWII in Europe, but this book definitely held my interest not just because of the Holocaust, but because of the author's focus on history itself. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

If you're looking for something way off the beaten path, try Don't Look Now, by Daphne Du Maurier: Stories Selected and With an Introduction by Patrick McGrath



9781590172889
New York Review of Books, 2008
346 pp

paperback

"I have a theory that each man's life is like a pack of cards, and those we meet and sometimes love are shuffled with us. We find ourselves in the same suit, held by the hand of Fate. The game is played, we are discarded, and pass on."  (309)
                                                                                                    
 In his introduction, Patrick McGrath notes that although Daphne Du Maurier's work has had great popular success,  "during her lifetime she received comparatively little critical esteem."  Du Maurier herself was "pained deeply" about being "dismissed with a sneer as a bestseller" rather than as a serious writer. If her popularity, her status as a "bestseller," or her reputation as a Romance novelist keeps people from reading her work in this collection, well, that's a shame.  If you're  tired of same old same old in your reading life, and you want a bit of shaking up, I can't think of a better book to recommend than this one a fine selection of stories that should not go unread. The choice of stories in this book might be a little uneven, but for the most part, they're worth every second of time you spend not only reading them, but thinking about them long after you've turned that last page.  This book might also provide a different perspective from which to examine Du Maurier as much more than simply the woman who wrote Rebecca.  

If you're interested, and you want something off the beaten path, you can read what I have to say about this book here. I haven't said too much about the content of the stories, so very little of importance will be revealed.  This is such a good book!
 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

trash talk

Yesterday afternoon I finished reading Don't Look Now (which I'll get into more tomorrow when I talk about it here) a collection of nine stories by Daphne DuMaurier from NYRB books.  My favorite story in this collection turned out to be "The Birds," the story  that Alfred Hitchcock loosely adapted for his movie of the same name. In fact, I was so taken with this frightening little tale that I went on line to see what other readers had thought of it.   I didn't make it past the second place I landed, which is a blog that shall remain anonymous.  It wasn't so much what the blogger had noted, but one of the comments on what he'd written that stopped me in my tracks -- the person wrote something along the lines of "Du Maurier's  work is trash, but fun to read." There was no explanation given about what the term "trash" means to that person.

I have to say that the use of the word "trash" really bothered me.  What exactly does it mean to say that an author's work is trash?  Does it mean not literary enough?  Does it mean strictly grocery-store fare?  Does it bring to mind bodice-ripping romance novels with very little in the way of plot but lots of steamy sex and the use of the words "his throbbing manhood?" Is it fiction that gets churned out by certain authors who seem to have a new book every year? Is it just genre fiction in general? Is there a consensus on the definition of "trash" that has been put together by some cabal of  elite literary critics? Or can it be that "trash" is merely in the eye of the beholder?


I googled "trashy books" and one of the first entries that wasn't based on romance novels was from Flavorwire. In all honesty, Flavorwire is not one of my normal reading sites, but for my purposes of trying to get a handle on what books someone might consider trash, it's a good starting place. The article I've linked is called "40 Trashy Novels You Must Read Before You Die." Here the author comes up with a list of 40 novels she considers are trash, without saying exactly what she means by trash.  Here are the ones I've read:    #17 is Lady Chatterley's Lover, by DH Lawrence. Trash?  #24 - Silence of the Lambs? If you like serial killer novels, this is one of the grandaddies of them all. Will it go down in the annals of the world's greatest literature? No. Is it creepy fun? Yes.  #26 - The Bad Seed, by William March. If you ask me, this is a good one, and even though it was written in 1954, it asks questions that are very much pertinent today.  And #28 - really? It's The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which was a retelling of the story of King Arthur from the pov of the women. #32: The Stand, by Stephen King: while his Dark Tower series is my favorite out of all of his work, The Stand scared the bejeezus out of me when I first read it.

It wasn't until the day after her article was published that the author of said article offered a definition of "trash"  after an internet flaming session led her to write:

"When I think of the word “trash” I think of work written to titillate and entertain." 

So, is "titillating" at the root of trash?

What exactly constitutes trash? The books I noted in the paragraph above didn't seem "trashy" to me at the time, so I'm still NOT sure what it means. If someone could enlighten me, I'd be forever grateful.