Tuesday 25 December 2012

An American/Australian Christmas

Other North Americans or I suppose anyone from the northern hemisphere will understand when I say Christmas in (Australia) the summer is very hard to get used to.  The days are too long to put up lights so things look a bit bare. Especially when I grew up in a town in mid west America and the houses were lit up like the houses in Chevy Chase's movie Christmas Vacation.

I have gotten over the fact we don't have many lights if any and I am even used to having Christmas in summer, as strange as it feels at times. But I never got used to not having American food for Christmas.

So this year we are having an American Christmas with food I have found at USA foods.com  in Melbourne.

Yesterday I made an enormous pumpkin pie. Americans don't eat pumpkins, the vegetables,  as Australians do. And no the pumpkins that Australians eat are not the jack-o-lantern pumpkins. They are an entirely different variety and quite like a big squash.  They taste differently but are very good. There is also butternut pumpkin. But I digress. Americans eat pumpkin pie using Libby's pie mix from a tin. I know, I know, I have heard it all before but I grew up on this stuff and I love it. Must be the cinnamon and nutmeg that is in it. Today a couple of our Aussie friends are having it. Wonder what they'll think of it.

My "American Pumpkin Pie" 

We'll also have a ham smothered in cloves and pineapple slices. American potato salad which has mayonnaise and mustard in it along with some paprika over the top for a bit of colour with the potatoes and eggs. There will also be sweet potato casserole and of course cranberry sauce, not the berries but the gelled sauce.  Before anyone goes 'ew' or 'ug'  just remember some of your own memories of things you ate as a child and see if you could talk to someone else in another country about it without having to answer their odd looks. That is the fun of multi-culturism.

Our neighbour across the street also gave us 500 grams (1 lb) of sour cherries from her tree. Not the type of cherries I happily pop into my mouth as they are too tart.  I dug out some of my old cook books. It seems most of the recipes for pies are anything other than cherries and not wanting to make another pie crust I looked for a cake recipe.

Using a tin can to cut out round biscuits (American
biscuits are more like flat scones- they are not cookies)
Check out the size of those pancakes on the right.
I have a lot of cookbooks but my favourite cookbooks have always been those from the deep south of the USA.  As much as I love Asian food of all sorts and Turkish food and African food and the Australian staple of meat and three veg, nothing is such a comfort as the cooking of the deep south of the U.S.A.  I am referring to the 'real' cooking of the deep south before things came out of freezers, ready made, processed or tinned.

The book I pulled out was Fannie Flagg's Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook- featuring Fried Green Tomatoes, Southern Barbecue, Banana Split Pie and other wonderful things like Southern Fried Chicken, grits and okra.

An old ice cream parlour. I can only
imagine how good that home made
ice cream would have been.

This book came out after the movie,  "Fried Green Tomatoes" with the wonderful late Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates.

The food featured in the film always looked so delicious with their big pots of mashed potatoes and bbq and everything else that would have been good in a southern diner.

Although I didn't find the cherry cake recipe I wanted in this book I did spend a bit of time enjoying the old black and white photos of the food, kitchens and people as well as reading the wonderful recipes.  It is one of those books if I were to ever do one of those cook book challenges where you blog about a recipe of the day this would be the book I chose. However I would no doubt double in size, at least and my cholesterol levels would look like a basketball score at the league finals.

Instead I decided to share this book with you instead of actually eating too much from it.
When looking up the dessert section I thoroughly enjoyed the excerpt about Christmas fruit cakes.  I have never been a big fan of Christmas fruit cakes but I have over the years become used to them a bit more.  I can now eat a bit of one and quite enjoy it, if it is moist and I have a nice cup of coffee or tea.  But this paragraph had me laughing out loud.

"There are no fruitcake recipes in this book. That's for a very sound nutritional reason. I hate fruitcake. I have been and continue to be tortured and tormented with fruitcakes every Christmas. Friends that I adore send me a fruitcake every year and I am running out of people to give them to. My mailman won't take them anymore. He says he'd rather have cash. So would I.  I am beginning to wonder if my friends are sending fruitcakes that someone sends them. Maybe there are only about ten fruitcakes in the world and they are just being sent all over the country like a fruitcake chain letter. Anyhow, I can see no purpose whatsoever for the stuff except for target practice or home insulation."

I hope everyone enjoys a bit of 'home made' comfort food today.  What is your own comfort food?

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Dear Travellin'Penguin: A letter to my friends.

Dear Travellin' Penguin and any readers out there,

First to Travellin Penguin.
Travellin'  Penguin
You were an idea I had of a little Penguin character I could bring to life and give adventures to through books, travel, music, theatre and life in general. You were to be based on the Penguin Logo but would change a bit over time as we all do.  At first I wasn't sure how you looked or what your character would develop into.

I continued to think about you as I read your old Penguin books you are related to. I knew your personality and character would develop in my mind.  The first guy I put up there with Karl and Anna just wasn't quite you. So I gave you a makeover based on your Penguin books ancestors.

I knew you liked adventures and action more than anything else.  I  knew you would bush walk, play music and travel to distant places both now, in the past and maybe into the future.

I knew the only way you could have these great experiences was to immerse you into the books I read, the books I talk about and the books I look forward to.

Next to the Readers out there:
As I review my first year of blogging and head into 2013 I think I will keep you here.  I find as I am living my own life, riding my big scooter, looking for old Penguin books, travelling with my family and friends, sorting out my own thoughts you live in a creative part of my mind.

As you mainly come to life through the books I read I will try to give you as many new things to do through my own reading and life experiences as I can.  I like the idea of a small imaginary Penguin friend listening to the tales of the past, the present and the future. It appeals to the child in me.

As an example in the photos below, I think we can see how you have grown during the year among the vast experiences you have had so far.

If young people or those who don't read much read this blog :   I would hope they can see how their own lives can be transformed through the really great fun of reading.  If you aren't a good reader or a fast reader just keep reading. It's the only thing you need to do to get better. Turn off the mindless t.v. programs and get a book.  American sitcoms may have their place in the world but books have so much more to give you.

Use your own imagination to experience all of the adventures and knowledge that are found in books.  It is one thing in life that can be followed that will never have an end.  You will never read all of the books, hear all of the ideas, meet all of the characters that are in those pages but you sure will learn a lot. And you don't have to have a lot of money either.

You'll learn how to do things you didn't know how, you'll meet people you love, hate, or laugh with. You'll think about new ideas that never occurred before.  You may even become more tolerant of the world.  This is what our little Travellin' Penguin is about. You can also travel anywhere in the world during any year that ever was or is to be.

As for myself I hope I get a few more followers next year though when I really think about it I only  really do this for my own pleasure. But it is fun to share life's experiences with others and make new friends.

The blog is such great fun. It keeps me focused and structures more of my own goals for reading the books I have always wanted to read but with such a terrible habit of procrastination I didn't get around to.  But knowing I have to get Travellin' Penguin up there and make sure he continues to live I remain focused and accomplish my own goals so much easier. It is kind of like clapping to keep Tinkerbell alive.

All the best for the upcoming holidays to everyone who has followed our little fella below and I hope you enjoy his travels through 2013.   I have enjoyed all of your blogs very much and have been inspired by them. I have also developed an enormous list of books that are now in my most amazing TBR pile.

I am now going to have a break and will return in early January.  Travellin' Penguin and I have Christmas things to do with family and friends and will give our full attention to that now. We also have some books to read.

All the best to everyone and do drop in and say hello when you can. You are always welcome.  I have enjoyed meeting those visitors of 2012 and some have turned into friends. I look forward to making new 'book mates' in 2013.   Pam and Travellin'Penguin

See you in January. Below are some of the experiences our little Penguin had this past year.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Lola Bensky by Lily Brett - A Review

I haven't read any of Lily Brett's previous books but my husband has and he has always enjoyed them. So when she was a guest author at our local bookshop one evening we took advantage of it and went to see her.  Lily Brett, an Australian born to parents who survived the holocaust, later immigrating to Australia is a speaker with a great sense of humour. Her humour also comes across in Lola's dialogue. Also Lily Brett has suffered herself being the daughter of death camp survivors and all other family members of her parents perished.   Lola Bensky is in the same position. Lola spends a good amount of time in New York City. Lily Brett has lived in New York City now for a couple of decades.

The book begins when Lola as a 19 year old in 1960's London has the enviable job of interviewing the important rock stars of the day. I think this part of the  book was my favourite. Lola is fat, a fact her mother never lets her forget, she is clumsy, she lacks direction, but she has an incisive mind and the questions she asks the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger, Mama Cass and Cher, to name a few, are a bit deeper than the normal celebrity type questions they seem used to. They remember her when they run into her during subsequent festivals and events.

Lola is like a breath of fresh air. Throughout the book though there lies a most unmistakeable thread of sadness and horror related to the experiences her parents have survived and the profound impact it has on Lola, loving her parents yet quite distanced from them as they can never truly recover from their own lives during WWII in Auschwitz.

I found Lily Brett's writing also concise, laced with humour and the characters well developed. The conversations between Lola and her parents are thought provoking and having lived through the 60's I enjoyed revisiting the music rock stars of the day.

Although the book is semi autobiographical, as Lily Brett also got her start in the job market as a journalist interviewing celebrities when she was young. She also is familiar with the anguish of having parents who suffered so much in the past. She is able to recount what life is like for the children of holocaust survivors.  It is something I haven't normally thought much about.  There is a great deal of insight into the entire experience without being morbid or maudlin.

Lola is a complex character and one I would love to be friends.  Although much of her life is spent as being quite insecure, I don't think she is anymore insecure than a lot of young adults are and as she ages into her 60's through the book she experiences many changes through maturation readers can relate to. I would definitely recommend this book.

Friday 14 December 2012

The Twelve Days of Penguins- Ho Ho Ho

The Twelve Days of Christmas Penguins

This Christmas post is dedicated to my dear friend/little sister Kate who loans me her children so I enjoy Christmas as they do.
Best bookshop in Hobart for new books.

On The First Day of Christmas
My True Love Gave to Me
A Pen—guin from a Book Store  (practise that, you'll get the rhythm)

On the Second Day of Christmas
My True Love Gave to Me
Two Special Penguins  
and a Pen—guin from a Book Store

On the Third Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Three Puffin Pet Books, 
Two  Special Penguins and a Pen—guin from a Book Store

On the Fourth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to me
Four Illustrated Classics, 
Three Puffin Pet Books, Two Special Penguins and a Pen—guin from a Book Store

On the Fifth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me
Five King Penguins........
Four Illustrated Classics, Three Puffin Pet Books, Two Special Penguins........
And a Pen—guin from a Booooooookkkk Store

There's always someone around
here to put their nose in my business.

On The Sixth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me
Six Penguin Pencils
Five King Penguins......
Four Illustrated Classics, Three Puffin Pet Books, Two Special Penguins...
And a Penguin from a Book Store

Do I look like a bookshelf??

On the Seventh Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to me
Seven Cerise Penguins
Six Penguin Pencils, Five King Penguins.... Four Illustrated Classics, Three Puffin Pet Books, Two Special Penguins...and A Penguin from a Book Store

On the Eighth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me
Eight Very old Pelicans, Seven Cerise Penguins,  Six Penguin Pencils,
Five King Penguins...
Four Illustrated Classics, Three Puffin Pet Books, Two Special Penguins
And a Pen-guin from a Book Store

On the Ninth Day of Christmas my True love Gave to me
Nine Penguin Poets, 
eight very old Pelicans, seven cerise Penguins, six Penguin Pencils, five King Penguins....
Four Illustrated Classics, Three Puffin Pet books, Two Special Penguins and a
Pen-guin from a Book Store

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Ten Penguin Logos, Nine Penguin Poets, eight very old Pelicans, seven cerise Penguins, six Penguin Pencils, five King Penguins.
Four Illustrated Classics, Three Puffin Pet books, Two Special Penguins and a
Pen—guin from a Book Store.

On the eleventh day of Christmas My true Love gave to me
Eleven crime penguins, 
ten Penguin Logos, nine Penguin Poets, eight very old Pelicans, seven cerise Penguins, six Penguin pencils, five King Penguins.....
Four Illustrated Classics, Three Puffin Pet books, Two special Penguins and a
Pen—guin from a Book Store

On the Twelvth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Twelve big new bookshelves, eleven crime penguins, ten Penguin Logos, nine Penguin Poets, eight very old Pelicans, seven cerise Penguins, six Penguin Pencils, five King Penguins....
Four Illustrated Classics, Three Puffin Pet books, Two special Penguins and a Pen—guin from a Book Store....

I hope everyone has a very happy and safe Christmas season and if you aren't of a faith that celebrates Christmas I hope whatever faith you believe or none, that you too have an enjoyable happy season. May we all be generous and kind to one another in 2013.

Monday 10 December 2012

Monday Mania- A Bit of a Catch Up

The past week has been pretty much an assortment of puzzles, bike rides, Penguin collecting and reading.

The puzzle was a 1000 piece jigsaw of USA national parks my sister gave me awhile back. I finally pulled it out of the closet and put it together.  I find assembling jigsaws a good thing to do while listening to an audio book.

I am currently listening to the completely unabridged audio book of Moby Dick.  So far I am enjoying it but am only on chapter 10.  It has a lot of humour in it that surprised me. For some reason I didn't think of it as being very funny in parts but it is. But it is getting a bit more serious now as he has just launched out to sea. Lots left to yet happen.

I finished a 'fluffy" crime novel, Bones are Forever by Kathy Reichs.  I began reading her books years ago when she published her first novel, Deja Dead in 1997.    Her character Temperance Brennan is an American forensic anthropologist who spends a great deal of time between crime labs in North Carolina, USA and Montreal, Canada.  I particularly enjoy the time when she is in Montreal as it is such an interesting city.

I recently read a review from someone who stated if you want to learn about a locale's geography be sure to read crime books located in the area. This story takes place, for the most part in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of north-western Canada and I found the characters, especially their names fun and interesting.  This town is a bit out of her mainstream locations.  I think most crime books are written to a formula and although this one was a bit predictable I still enjoyed the people and the places.  However she generally has a bit more about her character's personal life regarding her grown daughter and her on again/off again love interest. Not much in this book about either of them this time and I found I missed that.  But a quick entertaining read and better than anything that was on t.v. that night. There actually is a television series based on her books but I never watch it. I can't tolerate American mainstream television.

The next book I read was a vintage Penguin from my collection called The Lost Stradivarius by J. Meade Falkner.  It was originally published in 1895 and Penguin Books published it as book number 487 in 1946, just after World War II.

The story is narrated by Sophia Maltravers who was the sister to her late brother, John Maltravers, who was father to her nephew, Sir Edward Maltravers, upon the death of his father. (Wow! say that fast three times!)  It was his wish that his son Edward knew about certain events which occurred in his last years upon Edward coming of age.

Her story begins of a young John who is an Oxford student of music who discovers every time he plays a particular piece of music, The Gagliarda (Italian) that a wicker chair in his student room creaks and moves a bit. His friend, Mr. Gaskell who accompanies him on the piano is also shown the creaking and movement of the chair when he arrives to play.  They play other music but the 'ghost'  only seems to be interested in this one piece of music.

Running parallel to this tale the young John is also quite taken by Constance Temple, a young woman he eventually marries.

However nothing is ever simple in an old Penguin book and we find John becoming more and more obsessed with the mysterious Gagliarda and the ghost. It isn't long before he actually sees the man who appears from making sounds to an appearance as he disappears through a wall one evening.

One day John is rearranging his student room and moves a book case finding an old door in the wall. Upon opening the door he finds a very old Stradivarius violin that we eventually learn was one of the very first ones ever made and it was made for an ancestor of Constance, a man known as Adrian Temple.

There is a large portrait of Adrian Temple with music written on a scroll in the background that John discovers is in fact the Gagliarda.

As our story continues John becomes more and more obsessed with the late Adrian Temple, so much in fact he travels to Italy, buys a villa and from there the story completely unwinds into total silliness.

He discards everything important in his life and leaves behind family members who love him but are completely unable to connect with this poor shell of a man who has become insane with his obsession of Adrian Temple.

I found this story quite entertaining and enjoyed reading it because although I thought I could predict what would happen I was never completely sure.  The characters were well described to the point I'd know them if I ran into them on the street. At times I had to flip back a few pages to see that what was being described as happening actually was the case. The section where he is living in Italy became a bit confused but was easily sorted upon revisiting a couple of pages. I enjoyed this book but then I am easily able to suspend all belief when reading most things and it was necessary to do this with this book.

Upon finding Adrian's final resting place in Italy that just happens to be in the villa John bought, he speaks to his visiting sister:
"He described it,"my brother continued, "as a long hall with an arcade of arches running down one side, of the fantastic Gothic of the Renaissance. At the end was a gallery or balcony for the musicians, which on its front carried a coat of arms." I remembered this perfectly (from the portrait of Adrian Temple back in England)  and told John so, adding that the shield bore a cherub's head fanning three lilies on a golden field.  

"It is strange," John went on, "that the description of a scene which our friend thought a mere effort of his own imagination has impressed itself so deeply on both our minds. But the picture which he drew was more than a fancy, for we are at this minute in the very hall of his dream. 

My final book of the week I finished up with was a very light silly romance from the Virgin River series by Robyn Carr. I read somewhere in a blog that somebody (sorry I forget) enjoyed this series so I checked it out from the library.  It takes place in the mountainous area of redwood trees in northern California. I immediately enjoyed the location very  much and the people are all likeable, the men are perfect, even the crooks have a moral code and all the women become friends who are supportive of everyone. It is a story of a practising nurse/midwife living in Los Angeles who finds herself suddenly widowed as her husband has inadvertently walked in on an armed robbery in a local convenience store and been shot to death. 
Taking her grief she flees to a remote area in the mountains to work with a cranky old doctor who doesn't want her there and falls in love with the local bartender. And so it goes.  It was fun to read it in the mornings when waking up too early and not wanting to get out of bed yet.  Everyone in it makes you feel good and therefore starting the day knowing the world is all right. I don't think though I could bear to read the entire series in what I think may be 5 books all located in this same area. 

Well that is my week of activity having finished up the weekend with a 300 kms motorbike ride to the central highlands of Tasmania in strong winds with the Ulysses Motorbike club I belong to. It was a beautiful day with good friends, who all support each other and everyone is a really nice person. Oh no, did I just describe Virgin River?? Anyway that is an account of some of the good things that happened during the week. So on we go to the next.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Am Updating Penguin Hunter II

Yes I am reading quite a bit and yes I have even read an old Vintage Penguin book that I have half a post written about. It just isn't ready to put up yet.

Today I am even visiting a local market after receiving an email from one of the stall holders there he has a few Penguins for me. So will see what he has later today.

The reason I can't concentrate to blog is because I have been shopping this week. Big time shopping? Well, no not a house. But a new Penguin Hunting Scooter.

I have had my eye on this scooter since it first arrived in Australia in July this year from Italy.  I can only describe it as one cool bike.  I can't concentrate reading this week or writing because all I can do is day dream about my rides up the east coast to look for Penguins on this bike.  I have a list of bookshops written out of all second hand places that may have old Penguins lurking on the shelves in the state. There are several in the northwest of the state.

But my focus is more on the riding and less on the reading. After all it is going to be hot today and summer is now here and I just want to be on the road, with the smell of gum trees, hay and farms on the wind, the absolutely stunning Tasmanian landscape and a new more powerful, than I have, but not by much scooter.  So bear with me while I get over this huge bunch of endorphins in my brain and await the arrival of my Christmas present this year.
Here is the link if there are any motorbike (scooter) riding readers out there.


Aprilia SR Max 300 Scooter- fully automatic

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Some Rare Penguin Books??

It seems I have found a soul mate and partner in crime regarding Penguin collecting in the small country shed bookshop in  Kempton, Tasmania.  (Previous post about this shop here.) Phil who has had the shop for years has told me he is really enjoying helping me find Penguin books and he is digging them out of the woodwork of both his shed and his home. I wouldn't be surprised if he has boxes of them buried in the back paddock.

I rode Sidney Scooter up there a couple of weeks ago and the box I had been filling up, keeping there because he only has facilities for cash and I had none on me at the time, was even fuller when I went back.  I told him I would look at anything he has and he has taken it to heart.

This man's shop really is a little goldmine of many second hand books. If you're ever near Kempton, Tasmania, be sure to drop in on him.  Ask anyone in the town where he is located.  There is a sign on the door of the shed that simply states, "Ring bell, enter and I'll be with you soon."  He then walks over from the house.  He is quite elderly but his mind knows as much about the old books as anyone you'll meet in this trade.

We spent more than an hour just talking books and I ended up with quite a scooter load and not only Penguins.

This is the latest "Second Hand Book Loot."   I doubt I'll come across any of these again in Australia.

The first book here is The Reader's Guide described as

"A panel of distinguished scholars and scientists advise you how and what to read in Anthropology, Archaeology, Art, Belles Lettres, Biography, Classics,  History, Music Natural History, Novels,  Philosophy, Plays, Poetry, Politics, Psychology, Religion, Science and Sociology.  This planned syllabus for profitable reading contains over 1899 descriptive recommendations of the essential books in all these fields of knowledge and interest. 

It then proceeds to list all of the contributors. Edited by Sir William Emrys Williams and published in 1960 in Penguin's Pelican Books.

America The Vincible was published as a Penguin Special Book in 1959 by Emmet John Hughes.
It is described as a Study of America's role in World Affairs.  Interestingly enough although written by an American about America, due to copyright reasons this edition was not offered for sale in the U.S.A. or Canada. Could this be why American's don't always realise what the rest of the world thinks of them? :-)

Science News is part of a series. I don't know off hand how many books were published in this series. I have a set of the Penguin Biology series and the binding is similar to this one. This book was published in 1947 and is number 3 of the series. It contains articles about The Testing of Intelligence, Synthetic Emeralds, The History of Blood Transfusion as well as some updates on the agricultural front, the medical front and an announcement that Colour Photography Has Arrived. There are other articles that have as interesting titles as the rest of this edition.  It certainly goes a long ways towards showing us how far we have come ion many fronts.

I find these the two following editions extremely interesting as they are the Penguin Hansard reports.
No 1 is From Chamberlain to Churchill and No. 2 is The National Front.  It is the verbatim account from the House of Commons Official Report of Parliamentary Debates and both were published in 1940.  The content includes information regarding the beginnings of World War II and are certainly an interesting history that was available to the public at the time.

While I am on the topic of World War II these two Penguin Specials are also from that era. Britain by Mass Observation was published in 1939 and Genevieve's Tabouis's Blackmail or War were published in 1938.

The following three Penguins are related more to the leisure activities in Sport and Music.  My book seller pulled the 60 Seasons of League Football off his desk and handed it to me with what I can only describe as reverence.  He asked me if I would be at all interested in anything like this.  "Yes absolutely" was my chortled reply.  I doubt there would be many copies of this book in Australia so it will be a great addition to the overall collection.  Published in 1958 it is Penguin Special No S 171.  Part One describes the League and its History; Part Two is a record of the chief records of all the League clubs, past and present, from Abedare Athletic to York City and Part Three is full of the Final League Tables: from 1888- 1958. 
There is a bibliography and index at the end of the book.

Next in line are two copies of Penguin Music Magazine published in 1946 Number I. The magazine has articles in it related to the following:

  • The Future of Opera in England
  • Music Inspired by Painting
  • Soviet Music in War-Time
  • Standards of Performance
  • An argument about What is the Purpose of Music Part I

There are also articles about new books, new music, record collections, music on the air and finishes up with articles about Opera in London, Ballet in London and Concerts in London at the time.

This last entry of Beethoven's Music Score probably isn't quite as rare but very difficult to find as well especially in Australia. There was a beautiful series of these published of various classical music scores. This one entitled Beethoven:  Coriolan and Egmont was Penguin Scores III and published in 1949.

I have two other very interesting Penguin Specials that I will post up in another post. They are about a current event that happened in the UK of great prominence but as they were handed to me with many newspaper articles clipped out of UK papers regarding the event I want to go through them and do a proper post about them.

These interesting books are just another reason why collecting old Penguin books is such a challenging and gratifying past time.  It is just so exciting to come across the wonderful variety that Penguin books that are now an important part of our social history.

Saturday 24 November 2012

How Far Would You Go To........

.........remove a 10 year old boy from his anorexic fundamentalist Christian American mother who sends him to Pastor Bob's anti gay classes every week?
Published by William Heinemann

The thought of this drew me to this book as well as being influenced by a couple of other bloggers who recommended it.

The book is The Borrower and it is the first novel by Chicago writer Rebecca Makkai.  Ms. Makkai has previously been known for her short story collections but is now writing novels.

As a first novel I found flaws in it but overall I really enjoyed it.  A librarian, Miss Hull,  in Hannibal Missouri befriends a young 10 year old boy who practically lives in the library so he is able to access all of the books he is banned from reading.  His mother watches him with hawk like eyes and will often send a babysitter along with him to ensure he is reading The Hardy Boys or The Bobsey Twins which bored him silly. No wizards, magicians or dragons allowed.

Miss Hull has great empathy for him and sneaks him books, going as far as to let him stuff the books down his pants, front and back in order to smuggle them home.

The first third of this book really hooked me in. I enjoyed the characters, I could really understand Miss Hull's dilemma in wanting to save this boy from his mother especially once she finds out he is being sent to anti-gay classes with Pastor Bob who may be a bit suspect.

One day she enters the library and discovers Ian camping out in the library. He has run away from home. She offers to drive him home but ends up following his directions and the road trip from Missouri in the midwest begins towards Vermont in the north east of the country.

Once this part of the book began I must say I suspended all belief. It was just a bit too much to really appreciate as the police these days are pretty sophisticated with their missing children endeavours.  However the relationship between Miss Hull as she continually spins her web of dishonesty and letting Ian dominant the route of the trip continues.

Then throw in her relationship with her Russian immigrant parents, especially her mafia like father and I found this story was like trying to hold slippery eels all at once without dropping one.  On top of all of that enter her boyfriend, who is also quite annoying and it becomes a bit of slapstick.  I was curious though to get to the end (which I will not spoil) just to see what on earth happens.

Rebecca Makkai- author
The last third of the book tied things up both satisfactorily and unsatisfactorily and I was once again drawn back into their plight. I think the strength of this story are the characters and her message. They seem pretty solid, and their interactions, especially between Miss Hull and Ian are funny. He is an extremely bright, precocious boy, and I enjoyed the topics he was continually bringing up for them to ponder. However he certainly shied away from anything that was very personal which I wanted to hear a bit more about.

Overall I enjoyed this book. I think this author will get more structured as she continues her writing career and I look forward to watching her maturation as a writer of novels.  I enjoyed the beginning and ending of this tale but the middle sometimes waffled a bit. Although it was worth sticking it out and I liked the premise of the story:  kidnapping this child to remove him from the influence of the church in trying to rid him of his "possible homosexuality" in his future. After all he is only 10!.

I also think the main characters were developed enough that I could really get to know them. I would have liked to have seen some of the minor characters including the mother fleshed out a bit more. I thought they were more like stick figures running through the pages where the main characters were highlighted in brilliant technicolour. That could perhaps have been intentional on the author's part to keep the reader focused but sometimes it worked better than at other times.


Favourite excerpts below:

I think the handling of the message she sends  about the treatment of young people possibly going into gay lifestyles they are destined for was good. As if people are able to simply choose at a specific age whether they will be attracted to men or women or both.
I enjoyed her description of being in a library and I think anyone who loves books will appreciate her words:

"Maybe that's why I prefer this new library to my own bedroom:  looking at the million book spines, I can imagine a million alternate endings. It turned out the butler did it all, or I ended up marrying Mr. Darcy, or we went and watched a girl ride the merry-go-round in Central Park, or we beat on against the current in our little boats, or Atticus Finch was there when we woke up in the morning."

I also enjoyed her paragraph when thinking about this boy's total love of books and how he must work in order to read those he craves to read.

"I believed that Ian Drake would get his books, as surely as any addict will get his drug. He would bribe his babysitter, he'd sneak out of the house at night and smash the library window. He'd sell his own guinea pig for book money. He would read under his tented comforter with a penlight. He'd hollow out his mattress and fill it with paperbacks. They could lock him in the house, but they could never convince him that the world wasn't a bigger place than that. They'd wonder why they couldn't break him. They'd wonder why he smiled when they sent him to his room." 

Book source:  Tasmania State Library

Thursday 22 November 2012

Middlemarch by George Eliot

I finished Middlemarch the other day and felt I had lived an entire lifetime in Victorian England as well as having completed some interesting time travel. To first view this book I was intimidated by its size and the fact it is an English period piece. I have always struggled with English history. I found my intimidation took a different form to that of tackling Don Quixote last year which I really loved and it was longer yet.
Middlemarch, like much literature of its time was originally published in a serial format. It was not expected that one would read it in a weekend marathon. Though I found if I let too much time lapse between picking it up again I would have needed to go back and begin again. This was especially true with the first 1/3 of the book. After that, once I had the characters well and truly sorted in my head  I found I could not put it down and I think having had to wait for two months for the next publication in a serialised format would be difficult.

Middlemarch was published in serial form during 1871-72. Later in 1874 it was published as one entire book. 
Guardian Magazine  published an interesting review by A.S.Byatt on 4 August 2007.  She wrote, 
"Virginia Woolf described Middlemarch as 'one of the few English books written for grown up people.' anti romantic, yet intensely passionate, it is one of the greatest novels of all agreed Byatt.
She went on to say, "The novel is an image of a society, political, agricultural, aristocratic, plebian, religious, scientific. "

The main characters were Mr. Brookes, his neices Dorothea and Cecilia. Mr. Casaubon, his cousin Will Ladislaw. Later on we met Rosamund Vincy the daughter of the mayor who marries the progressive town doctor, Mr. Lydgate and then we meet the Garths. There are too many characters to mention as besides the main lives we follow we have the minor characters who also play a role.  Eliot doesn't seem to include anyone who doesn't have a very specific role to play.  

I enjoyed the initial style of the book as it appeared two or three main characters were introduced and the reader gets to know them quite well. As well as those main characters a minor character or two is introduced who then turns into a main character during the subsequent section of the book. This happens during the first 3 or 4 books within Middlemarch. Although there are many characters it does not take long to get to know them all.  After we feel familiar with who everyone is,  Eliot begins mapping out the relationships that are to come between the characters as they begin to relate to one another. The final third of the book has all of the relationships in full swing and we see what happens to each of them within their relationships and community positions.

Behind all of the activities of the characters the background of society goes through social and political reform that everyone is talking about as well as the modernisation of medical practises beginning, as well as some characters focusing on agricultural practises interspersed amongst the aristocratic hierarchy from rich to poor of the various class structures. 

My favourite book about books has always been Mortimer Adler's "How To Read a Book". I have read it several times and he advocates when reading a very long challenging novel that one should compare the experiences to moving into a new city. Initially when you move into a new city you meet many people you see occasionally. The person who helps you find your accommodation, to the local grocer, the postman and others one sees daily but does not really become involved.  Then you start your new job and you meet the workers who may or may not play more of a role in your life. There are your family members and friends who you see all of the time and with whom you become very involved with. He states one should simply read through the book, no questions asked, no looking up vocabulary, simply read.  Reread it a second time if you are studying it for a class and then really pay attention to the detail. Once you have invested the time needed in the book or living in a new place, the characters fall into place and the confusion disappears. 

I applied this thinking to my reading of this tome and immediately was able to define the characters who would be 'part of my life' as opposed to those simply making an appearance here and there. 

I enjoyed the societal changes going on in the background and studying how all of the characters related to these changes.  There is much discussion about all aspects of the microcosm of a community.  People are born, living their entire life and dying in this small community. The links between people are quite stifling at times and more often frustrating in not accomplishing what they want to achieve. I don't think it is a story that dates much except maybe for attitudes towards women and technological changes. Basic premises are often the same as underlying angst of disappointed relationships, not meeting one's goals and dealing with  the busybodies of life remain quite unchanged. 

The young George Eliot
(Mary Anne Evans)
This book has often been described as the greatest novel of all times. I don't know if I agree with that as I have not read the novels of all time. It does embrace an entire generation quite effectively of a specific time period. It is certainly a societal history of this time period.  

I found the writing to be beautiful and often reread paragraphs to enjoy the prose. Eliot's writing to me is amazing. I loved it. However I will admit that there were times that the descriptions could have slowed down a bit. It did become tedious sometimes especially when I was anxious to see what was going to happen next or I was tired. 
I found there to be an interesting balance of writing between what everything looks like or what is within a person to what everyone is going to do next to resolve the dilemmas they face. There were times, especially near the end it became almost suspenseful and I was exceedingly interested in knowing what happens to these people I felt I lived with during the previous few weeks. 

Mr. Casaubon perhaps?
I am certainly not a scholar in English  history but I learned a great deal about this time period in an interesting way and it is a book I could actually reread to pick up some of the finer points in it. However I doubt I will do that soon. I would recommend giving this book a try and don't give up on it until you're well and truly through the introduction of most of the characters because that is when things begin to happen.

                                                          Applies to The Classics Club challenge