Monday, January 31, 2011

reading resolutions

As January draws to a close, it's really my last chance to blog about New Year's resolutions, so here they are before the time runs out.

1) Blog more. This is one of those things like 'exercise more' or 'eat healthily' that crop up over and over again but rarely eventuate. But all the same I'd like to blog more regularly this year. And leave comments on other blogs, rather than lurking as usual.

2) Read at least one book from every continent (apart from Antarctica). My reading tends to be very dominated by, roughly in order, England, the US and Australia. So in order to mix things up a bit I've set this target, I think it's pretty easily achievable but I don't really have a plan of attack. Any recommendations (particularly for books from Africa and Asia, which I don't come across often) greatly appreciated! It can be difficult to define a book's 'nationality', so I'm using these guidelines- author's nationality + setting of book + language originally published in must all be from a country in that continent. There are a whole bunch of different ways you could do this, I thought this way would be interesting.

That's it really. We'll see how I go with those. In the mean time, in aid of 1 I have been thinking about posts on trilogies, folk tales and brunch. Not sure how many of those will make it into coherent post form, wait and see!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

home, let me go home

Sam's companion review of Gilead  is here

Coming to Home straight after reading Housekeeping I was struck by the differences. Home feels earthier, more dialogue, less light and water, less dreamy. But then the similarities- the interest in family, the presence of loneliness as a force that seems intrinsic to some people. The outsider, the drifter, and home. As you might expect, home is a major theme in this novel.

Home begins with Glory, the youngest of eight children, returning home to the Iowa town of Gilead to look after her aging father, the Rev. Robert Boughton, after her own dreams have been shattered. Shortly after her return her brother, Jack, comes home too. Unlike Glory, he hasn't been home for 20 years, and his return fills the house with a mixture of anger, joy, love and anxiety. Home in this book is a place of happy childhood memories, but also painful ones. It provides sanctuary but also a sense of failure. Both children have returned less than voluntarily, and the fact of being home provides a contrast to what they could have hoped for from their lives.

Glory and her father are both happy to see Jack, they love him and want him to come home and stop wandering. Since he was a boy he has always been a sort of outsider in the family, a constant source of worry and misbehaviour even before disappearing for 20 years. While away it is clear that his life has been hard and fairly solitary, and when he comes home he brings with him the habits of solitude and secrecy that he has always had. The relationship between father and son is difficult. Robert Boughton loves his son, regards him almost as a favourite, is overjoyed to have him home, but still cannot trust him or entirely approve of him. The three try to live together in one house, with father and daughter always wary of saying or doing anything that will scare Jack away again. Jack, for his part, seems to love them too, but can't work out how to be a part of the family and can't get rid of his own sense of guilt. What a hard book to sum up! How to summarize these complex family relationships? 

Jack seems to have a sense of 'outsider-ness' from birth: 
Jack said quietly, "I don't want you to give a damn about me. Any of you. I never did." He looked at Glory as if he might apologize, then there was a silence
But the rest of the family can't help caring about him. They love him and they want him to think well of them. Glory still looks up to him as an older brother, like when she was a child. His father tries to work for the best for his family, but things don't work out as he hopes and his efforts often seem futile or counter-productive:
"If it were only a little easier to know what they are. The needs of others. A good deal more is required than just being mindful. That has certainly been my experience."

Probably the best way to summarize the relationships is to compare them to the story of the prodigal son, which Robinson is drawing on here. Religion is a big part of the family life of the Boughtons (they are a Presbyterian minister's family after all), and their religious beliefs are very much a part of how they relate to each other and see themselves. 'Home' in this context has also a resonance with the idea of a heavenly home (though I don't think this is really drawn out in the novel). Guilt and forgiveness are big themes too, they are warring forces particularly in Robert Boughton. There are no easy answers here though, forgiveness is not always easy, and guilt is insidious. The problem of not knowing the right thing to do comes up often, particularly as the family is not quite sure how to relate to Jack.

In the end it is a bittersweet book about family and love and how hard it can be to translate love to another person. How home can be valued by people in different ways. It is sad but I wouldn't describe it as sentimental. When they were looking forward to Jack coming home in the beginning, I was teary. At the end I flat-out cried. It seems so real somehow, all these people so flawed but trying so hard to make things better.  I can't do it justice, except to tell you to read it yourself. And I am definitely looking forward to Gilead!

Monday, January 10, 2011

top picks of 2010

Author discovery of the year: Marilynne Robinson! I would be happy to go out and just read anything by her. Other notable authors I read for the first time this year were Kate Griffin and Anais Nin.

Top 10 books read last year (not in order):

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel
Scott Pilgrim series - Bryan Lee O'Malley
Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
The Changeover - Margeret Mahy
The City and the City - China Mieville
The Summer Book - Tove Jansson
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet- David Mitchell
A Madness of Angels - Kate Griffin
Home- Marilynne Robinson

I feel like it's cheating to pick 10, since that makes up such a large proportion of books read. But it was still hard to pick. Honourable mentions to The Piper's Son- Melina Marchetta, Housekeeping- Marilynne Robinson, Under a Glass Bell- Anais Nin, The House of Mirth- Edith Wharton, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Hunger Games... I could go on, but I have to stop somewhere. This is a sign of the high calibre of books read in 2010 I think.

Least favourite book: The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas

Favourite books of 2010 anyone? I could do with some recommendations for 2011!

Saturday, January 01, 2011


I did this a couple of years ago- it's a meme taken from Ronni- and I liked it so I'm doing it again. Pretend that it's NYE rather than New Years Day....

1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
Studied by distance, ran a bible study.
2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I'm a bit wishy washy with new year's resolutions. I guess the same as most people- eat better, exercise more.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Two school friends of mine did- to Amelia and Matthew. Both in October. Also my cousin, in June, to Oscar.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
My Gran. It was somewhat unexpected. We remembered her chocolate cakes and love of books. I remembered the time she defended us from a charging bull (it may have been a cow) armed with a pitchfork. Love you Gran.
5. What countries did you visit?
Didn't leave Australia.
6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
More holidays! Maybe even leaving Australia.
7. What date from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
If I can't think of one, I doubt it can be etched on my memory.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting through a year of uni while also working and running a bible study.
9. What was your biggest failure?
I always forget the failures. Maybe failing to get my paperwork together and save as much as I could have. But I did get some way towards those things, so yay me!
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Not so many colds as normal, but a lot of hayfever. Short stomach bug. Nothing exciting.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
Books, my cardigan... I don't know. Money can't buy you love.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
So proud of my friends who managed to give birth! Proud of Cloud Control for growing as a band.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Internet commenters.
14. Where did most of your money go?
Savings, food, Andrew's car.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Babies! And my friend Alicia's engagement.
16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
I think most things from last years Triple J hottest 100, we played the CD alot this year.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder? A little bit sadder.
ii. thinner or fatter? Fatter
iii. richer or poorer? Slightly richer.
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Holidaying! Reading, exercise.
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
20. How did you spend Christmas?
With my family, in my Gran's old house near Scone. Although half the day was spent driving to Scone.
22. Did you fall in love in 2010
23. Did your heart break in 2010?
24. What was your favourite TV program?
Gruen Transfer/Nation, Chaser, Good Game. Love you ABC! Oh, and Sherlock Holmes. And the IT Crowd.
25. Where were you when 2010 began?
At a friend's place in West Pennant Hills.
26. Who were you with?
Uni friends, Andrew.
27. Where will you be when 2010 ends?
At a friend's flat in Annandale.
28. Who will you be with when 2010 ends?
Uni friends, no Andrew :(
29. What was the best book you read?
Home by Marilynne Robinson30. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Florence and the Machine
31. What did you want and get?
Many things, I am lucky.
32. What did you want and not get?
A trip overseas.
33. What was your favourite film of this year?
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World? Can't even remember what movies I watched this year.
34. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Went out to dinner with Andrew, played lawn bowls with my friends and went to the pub.
35. How many different states did you travel to in 2010?
NSW and ACT.
36. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Eclectic? Indecisive?
37. What kept you sane?
Andrew, God.
38. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
39. What political issue stirred you the most?
Australian elections, Wikileaks (does that count as political?), the US and the rise of the Tea Party
40. How many concerts did you see in 2010?
Um, I think three? Maybe there were more? Florence and the Machine and Cloud Control (twice).

41. Did you have a favourite concert in 2010?
Florence and the Machine introduced me to their music, which was awesome. Cloud Control's second concert showed how good they had gotten, which was also great.
42. Who was the best new person you met?
My bible study were pretty great.
43. Did you do anything you are ashamed of this year
I'm sure I got angry about a lot of small things. Probably ranted about something stupid. Not too bothered though.
44. What was your most embarrassing moment of 2010?
Don't remember one.
45. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
Everyone approaches life from different viewpoints, so they are always going to disagree. Try not to demonise the opposition.
46. What are your plans for 2011?
More of the same (work, study, bible study), hopefully with that overseas trip in there somewhere, or a house.
47. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

I'll love you 'til the ocean takes us all
- Til the Ocean Takes Us All, Cat Empire