What Library Staff are Reading July 2013

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Good news, bad news – another Scout Davis novel by Maggie Groff, set in Byron Bay. As a friend of mine says she wishes she could find a “Rafe.”

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty – a moving story set in the 1920’s in New York.

Both good reads.

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason – set in Iceland, this is one in a series featuring Inspector Erlendur. In this novel the Inspector is trying to find out the identity of a body found in a lake when the water level recedes. Cold War links and your usual untidy, socially dysfunctional policeman make for an OK but not great story. I spent a lot of time on Google Earth following all the action.

Fiere by Jackie Kay – a selection of poems, many in Scots. I bought this after listening to Jackie in conversation with Richard Fidler on Radio National : Listen Here.  ‘Fiere’ is  an old word for friend, to be found in ‘Auld Lang Syne’ . You can read the title poem on the Scottish Poetry Library’s website Here.

No Great Mischief by Canadian author Alistair MacLeod – chosen for me by someone at book group although I’d read it many years ago. This novel spans the Atlantic between Cape Breton in Canada and Scotland and the 17th century and the late 20th all in beautiful, lilting prose. The title comes from a line in a letter in which General James Wolfe describes the members of the MacDonald clan who fought under his command at Quebec by writing in a letter, “They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall.”

 1913 : In search of the world before the Great War by Charles Emmerson – a city by city account of the year before the war that was supposed to end warfare. I’m enjoying pacing myself with a chapter/city in between my other reading.

 The Help by Kathryn Stockett – read this for at least the third time, another book group read. Set in the early 1960s Mississippi, this novel is about how some African American maids collaborate with a white journalist to expose the treatment they get at the hands of their white employers. We felt the delivery a bit light-on for such a serious topic.

And right now I’m back in Iceland, reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent for book group. Not totally grabbed by it yet but it’s had some big reviews. Will it live up to all the hype?

Who’s Afraid of Mr Wolfe? by Hazel Osmond – easy to read, lovely story set in London.  For more information visit Hazel’s website.

Pleasure & Pain: My Life by Chrissy Amphlett – Here is an excerpt.   It is a roller-coaster ride of a read and a powerful insight into an Australian rock icon.  She has always been one of my role-models (I have seen her several times in concert and in the stage show Blood Brothers)  and after reading her book, I can now articulate why – a wild, no holds barred, outspoken woman who never compromised.  What a wonderful life.

Plus because I am on holidays I will have a backlog of Marie Claire magazines.

I have recently read Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg. An interesting and engaging read though not always cheerful. About a man and his mother, Mary, who has Alzheimers. He tells the story of her mother Grace’s life from around the turn of the 20th Century in order to find a place to meet his own mother’s backwards moving memories. Gentle and hopeful even through the great difficulties of Grace’s life and the sadness of the present.

On another cheery note I have just devoured Will Schwalbe’s The end of your life book club, the story of a man and his mother who is dying of pancreatic cancer. This is a true story, a lovely relationship and a fabulous hymn to the power of reading and sharing stories with those you love and with strangers.

For study and for interest purposes I read The library book, a collection of stories and essays about the importance of Libraries to writers and to all of us. There are some great stories of the early importance of public libraries in the lives of many writers and others, and borrowing the book raises money for UK libraries!

On a lighter note I have just reread the Earthsea quintet, as it is now. It is interesting to watch the evolution of Ursula le Guin’s writing about different kinds of magic, and women and men, over the first three books, then Tehanu and finally The other wind. As always I am completely captivated by her writing and her ideas, a pleasant escape to a place of spirit and emotion.

In the Company of Strangers by Liz Byrski, whose novels are aimed at women in the second half of their lives. This one features English-born Ruby, who as a vulnerable child was shipped out, as an ‘orphan’, to Australia along with many others during the turmoil of the Second World War. Her friendship with Cat probably saved her sanity during the terrible years of institutional life that followed. But a schism occurred between the friends during their adulthood, after which Ruby fled back to England. Now, in 2009, Ruby finds she must confront the cause for that, and fly back to Australia, to a farm south of Perth where Cat has been living. Cat’s death catapults a number of people into an uneasy alliance.

Mavis Levack, P I by Marele Day. Some funny slapstick here, read it out loud. Mavis dearly wants to solve crimes, to experience the cachet and excitement of being a private investigator. Her husband, unimpressed, comments drolly on her behaviour. I haven’t got far with it yet so will comment no further except to say that Marele Day is an entertaining Australian writer of whodunnits.

Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi. The author of this memoir was born in Tehran but was partly educated in Europe and America. She found being an academic in the Iranian capital (in the wake of suffocating strictures imposed by Ayatollah Khomeini) challenging and disheartening, not to mention downright dangerous. She decided that instead of trying to work that way she would initiate a weekly class at her house for committed students passionate about the study of English literature. The students, all women (to include men would have been too risky), came to class enveloped in their black robes, throwing them off once safely inside Nafisi’s house. I found out so much about the difficulty of living in a society governed by the rhetoric of fear and retribution, where the rules changed frequently. The joy of this book for me is in knowing there are always rebellious spirits like these, ready to fight back, to resist in whatever ways they can the oppressive, freedom-denying instincts of fundamentalists.

Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier – Huge ideas from the ‘Grandfather of virtual reality’. Theories on how to make the internet profitable for more people than just the big companies that are collecting and selling your information. I also found the many anecdotes of the early days of Silicon valley very interesting. If you are interested in who is collecting your information online, how they are doing it and what they are doing with it this is a book for you. If you contribute data and time into any large site like Flickr you would find these theories very positive.

Appetite For Self Destruction: The Spectacular Crash Of The Record Industry In The Digital Age by Steve Knopper – The history of the music industry beginning with the crash of disco and the beginning of CDs up until around 2009. Thoroughly researched and interviews  with many of the top bosses of the big labels. Particularly interesting is the Napster debacle and subsequent dismissal of selling digital copies of music. For anyone with an interest in the industry or copyright or even behind the scenes with Steve Jobs this is a great read, I couldn’t put this one down.

Solar Lottery by Philip K Dick – Still slowly working my through PKD’s extensive output this was his first published novel. I expected something not as polished as his later work but was pleasantly surprised with the story. Already containing many of the ideas he would go on to explore more in later books this is an easy enjoyable read, not as difficult as some of his later very complicated storylines.

Philosophy For Aliens by Geoffrey Berg

How To Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen

A Captain of the Gate by John Birmingham

Graphic novels :

Black Hole by Charles Burns

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne by Grant Morrison

Batman and Robin, Vol. 2: Batman vs. Robin by Grant Morrison

I am reading three books concurrently, to cover all possible moods and rooms I may be in, and as such have finished none.

Green Mountains by Bernard O’Reilly- a brief description of Bernard’s single minded and extraordinarily prescient search for a plane that crashed in the Lamington National Park in the late 1930’s, followed by a longer description of his family’s pioneering days in the Kanimbla Valley and Lamington Plateau. I have surprised myself by enjoying this, and I have learnt that should I have a festering wound out in the middle of nowhere, leave the maggots to do their thing- it might just save your life.

Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin- A Chinese fox demon meets a KGB werewolf in modern Russia, where they frolic and discuss various matters, both spiritual and carnal, related to humans and werekind. This was a random choice from The Guardian’s 1000 books to read before you die list.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan- a young woman is recruited by MI5 while at university to recruit right wing writers to counteract left leaning sensibilities in England. I am not as far in to this one, but so far, so good.

What about you, Dear Reader? What have you been reading this month?

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