My Uncle used to say that when they took my Grandmother along with them on holidays they needed a trailer just for her stuff. In my Grandmother’s mind there was always something extra you might need. As I get older I’m getting closer to my Grandmother’s style of packing and last week’s trip to Sorrento was perfect example. I packed five books; finished one, read half of another as well as a few chapters of an ebook. In the end three remained untouched and on top of this I picked up two second books on the drive down, more about them later. And then there’s the camera gear.
Despite the pessimistic weather forecast I still packed the camera and lenses. I don’t think I looked at the macro lens and my best shot at the bay of islands, the one above, was taken with my phone. Taking the camera however wasn’t a complete waste of time with an obliging young Pacific Gull coming to the rescue. I’ve got a soft spot for these birds who, unlike Silver Gulls, have an air of contentment about them.
If someone found a hardback copy of one of their favourite novels, a novel which is long out of print and their current copy is a well thumbed second hand paperback, I’d expect them to be pretty happy. That’s just happened to me with E.L. Doctorow’s The Waterworks and it turns out I’m both happy and sad. I’m going to enjoy reading the hardback. Larger print, easier to hold, not worrying about creasing the spine are all reasons why I like hardbacks. Why sad then? Because I purchased the paperback at the now closed Grub Street Bookstore in Brunswick St, Fitzroy and I’ll miss reading it.
Lastly, I had a good start to the month reading wise with three books read and I should finish two more this week. With another week left in the month I could read another two. Seven books read in a month? That’s a huge total for me.
Because I’ve only just restarted this website I’m going to do a catch-up list of books I’ve read for the year. The list goes up to the end of March and includes the four books I’d read for #SouthernCrossCrimeMonth. After a slow start I’m quite happy with the total of fifteen books read and my reading’s continued to improve since leaving Twitter. One other thing, only two of the books were released this year so my TBR pile is now mercifully smaller.
Book 1: Ordinary Matter- Laura Elvery. Ordinary Matter,Laura Elvery’s second collection of short stories, has been glowingly praised and I think the collection deserves every plaudit it’s received. Up to this point I haven’t read enough short fiction and for the rest of the year my aim will be to read at least one collection a month.
Book 2: Sword- Bogdan Teodorescu, translated by Marina Sofia. This is the debut release for Corylus Books, a new independent publisher specialising in translated fiction, and it promises great things. Although you may think at the start that Sword is a crime novel it soon becomes a story of how politics and the pursuit of or holding on to power corrupts every level of society.
Book 3: Rachel to the Rescue- Elinor Lipman. Although I did enjoy reading this novel it suffered from the fact that when it come to Donald Trump real events are far more bizarre than anything a fiction writer could ever imagine.
Book 4: maar bidi- next generation black writing. This collection of poetry and prose from students at the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia is just stunning. Any other words that I might saw would fail the collection so I recommend reading Raelee Lancaster’s excellent review of maar bidi in The Saturday Paper instead.
Book 5: Hinge- Alycia Pirmohamed. One reason I will miss Twitter is that it’ll make it harder for me to discover poets like Alycia Pirmohamed. The first time I read one of her poems was after she was awarded the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award in 2020 and I was immediately captivated. Hinge is the first full collection of Alycia Pirmohamed’s that I’ve read and it won’t be the last.
Book 6: Almost A Mirror- Kirsten Krauth. I grew up in Regional Victoria and alternative music gave me an outlet, a sense of individuality. Almost A Mirror not only takes me back to that time, it also references music which is still important to me today.
Book 7: Laidlaw- William McIlvanney. It is said that all Tartan Noir comes from Laidlaw and now, having finally read it, I can understand why. I’m also going to say that I’m glad that I hadn’t read it before. There’s something about Laidlaw’s lived experiences and his doubts which I don’t think I could’ve appreciated when I was younger.
Book 8: The Weave- Thurston Moore & John Kinsella. Another work which takes me back to my music which I love, in this case Sonic Youth. Weave is part of an ongoing poetry collaboration between Thurston Moore and John Kinsella and I look forward to more works in the future.
Book 9: Mordew- Alex Pheby. Loved this. I rarely read fantasy and yet despite this, Mordew is quite easily the best book I’ve read this year. The characters, dialogue and the world of Mordew itself are all excellent and it will a joy to visit them again when the second book in the trilogy lands in my hands.
Book 10: The Inconsolable Clock- Andrea Demetrious. Although I liked the poems I struggled with their content
Book 11: Captives- Angela Meyer. A Superior Spectre, Angela Meyer’s debut novel, was one of my favourite books in 2018. Captives, a collection of short fiction, was released four years previously and I was happy to find links to A Superior Spectre in it. Those links were geographical with some of the stories set in the Grampian region in Scotland. On top of that I just love Angela’s writing.
Book 12: Overkill- Vanda Symon.
Book 13: The Schoolgirl Strangler- Katherine Kovacic.
When Kim at Reading Matters proposed Southern Cross Crime Month in January I had three definite books on my list. Vanda Symon’s first Sam Shephard novel Overkill was long overdue for a read and there were two new releases which I was looking forward to reading, Katherine Kovacic’s first non-fiction work The Schoolgirl Strangler and Loraine Peck’s debut novel The Second Son. I’d also planned to read at least one more book and at the time Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s Mask would’ve been my choice. However when it came time to pick my fourth book of the month I chose to re-read Porter’s second crime verse novel El Dorado instead of The Monkey’s Mask, I’m glad I did.
I’m a big fan on independent publishers and Orenda Books in the UK are one of my favourites. If I was to list my crime reading highlights for each of the last few years there’d more than on Orenda Book on those lists. Now I have another reason to love them. Overkill, Vanda Symon’s first Sam Shephard book, was originally released in 2007 and if it hadn’t been republished by Orenda in 2018 it’s unlikely that I’d have read it. That would’ve been a tragedy because I very much enjoyed reading Overkill. Sam Shephard is a great character and with Vanda Symon’s direct first person narrative the dialogue in her mind is just as much as the dialogue with other characters in the book. Orenda has now republished all of the Sam Shephard books books I can’t wait to read the rest of them.
I don’t usually read True Crime. It’s a genre that I’m not overly comfortable with but in the case of The Schoolgirl Strangler I chose to read it because I trusted the author. I think Katherine Kovacic’s Alex Clayton books are one of the best of the recent crime fiction releases in Australia and it’s for this reason that I chose to read The Schoolgirl Strangler. The book details a series of four murders which took place in Melbourne and later on at Inverloch and Leongatha in Gippsland during the early to mid 1930’s. Those familiar with the Alex Clayton series will know that the first book is in part a fictional retelling of the murder of Mollie Dean. That murder took place between the first and second murders detailed in The Schoolgirl Strangler. Despite my discomfort with the genre I enjoyed The Schoolgirl Strangler and if Katherine Kovacic chose to write another True Crime book I’d certainly consider reading it.
Of the four books which I read for Souther Cross Crime Loraine Peck’s The Second Son is the one I least enjoyed. It’s not a bad book, in fact it’s quite readable and I managed to read it in three days which is light speed for me. My problem with The Second Son is that I neither cared for most of the characters or the background to the story, in particular the historical enmity which drove much of the plot of the book. I did however finish the book and this was in part due to the short alternating chapters told from point of the view of the two main characters which stopped me being frustrated with each of them. Despite my overall lack of enjoyment I’d probably read a sequel because the final pages of The Second Son indicates that its setting will be completely different.
Dorothy Porter’s El Dorado is one of the first books of poetry which I read in full and it’s also a book which I haven’t read for more than ten years. Those years seemed more like yesterday when I started reading the opening poems and that feeling of timelessness continued until the end of the book. And yet, if you look at the verse above, time has changed, Christmas beetles are almost a forgotten part of summer. These things combined with Porter’s humour and exquisite verse made El Dorado a most enjoyable reread for me and it’s also was my favourite of the four crime books that I read this month. Now, where did I put The Monkey’s Mask?
Post note: Thank you to Kim at Reading Matters for instigating Southern Cross Crime Month. For more reviews head over to the dedicated Southern Cross Crime Month page on Kim’s blog.
After making the decision to leave Twitter a few weeks ago I started to think about the future of this long neglected website. I’m still thinking, that can be a long process for me, and in the interim I’ve found a purpose for it. Nearly every computer I’ve owned has had a file called cabinet on the desktop. It’s where I put things and if you think that sounds organised, it’s not. You can expect the same for this website. Welcome to my virtual filing cabinet.
What do I plan to put in the cabinet? Books read lists and photos will be a start. I often wanted to say more than a single tweet about a book I’d read but didn’t have the confidence to write a full review, hopefully a paragraph or two in a monthly reading summary will be a happy medium. It’s a little bit similar for photos. I can now talk about the location as well as subject when I post a group of photos. That’s a start, we’ll see what happens next. Gordon
I’ve been thinking about posting my favourite books and albums from this year for some time and it’s occurred to me that if I don’t publish it now I may as well find something else to type. I’ll start with my five favourite books and then finish with the cd’s. In each list there’ll also be some supplementary additions.
The Silence of the Girls-Pat Barker:I honestly can’t do justice to how good this book is. Not only does Pat Barker bring the women of the Iliad to life, showing that they are living, breathing, thinking human beings and not just prizes after a days fighting; she does it with the most beautiful, and justifiably angry, prose.
A Superior Spectre- Angela Meyer: This story of time, or should I say mind, travel which is set in Scotland is a stunning debut. There’ll be a few quite a people in the UK who I’ll be encouraging to purchase A Superior Spectre when it’s released in 2019.
Preservation- Jock Serong: A book which teaches us an unknown part of our early history and also tells us a story which is vitally relevant to today is an immense achievement. Preservation is one such book.
The Arsonist- Chloe Hooper: Without doubt the most difficult book I’ve read all year and one which I would be poorer if I hadn’t done so. I cannot thank those who encouraged me to read it enough. The Arsonist is destined to win many awards and Chloe Hooper will deserve all of them and more.
A Scots Dictionary of Nature- Amanda Thomson: Scots is the language of my ancestors and although I’ve only just touched the surface of this beautuful book, I know it will bring me joy for many years to come.
Some of you may know that I enjoy reading crime novels and I would be remiss if I didn’t include a list of my favourites from this year. Ambrose Parry’s The Way of all Flesh, Doug Johnstone’s Faultlines and Liam McIlvanney’s The Quakerwere all enjoyed. I also caught up with a couple of debuts from last year, Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay and Sarah Bailey’s The Dark Lake, and both their follow-up novels are in my To Be Read pile. Now for the music.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks- Sparkle Hard: 2019 will mark the 25th anniversary of the release of some of my all time favourite albums. One of those albums is Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Stephen Malkmus, former lead singer of Pavement, is still making brilliant music and Sparkle Hard was almost my favourite album of the year.
Primal Scream- Give Out But Don’t Give Up: The Original Memphis Recordings: My album of the year was surprisingly recorded almost 25 years ago. The original recordings of Give Out, which were thought lost many years ago, were found in the basement of one of the band members. When the album was released in October it was a revelation.
The Aints- The Church of Simultanous Existance: When Ed Kuepper left The Saints after their 3rd album he still had many songs which he’d written but not recorded. The Church of Simultaneous Existance is a recording of many those unwritten songs and it’s almost like finding a Saints album.
Cat Power- Wanderer: Chan Marshall continues to record brilliant and unique albums. Although Wanderer is much more introspective than Sun, her previous album, it’s that introspection which makes it such a beautiful album.
Interpol- Marauder: After a number of disappointing albums Marauder is a real return to form for Interpol and it’s arguably their best album since Antics.
Other albums which I’ve enjoyed this year are the J Mascis’ Elastic Days, The Goon Sax’s We’re Not Talking and Courtney Barnett’s Tell Me How You Really Feel. That’s all for this year and I’m looking forward to the cooler months, mug of coffee, possum wrapped up in rug on my lap and a book in hand.
Each year there’s always a bunch of anniversary re-releases of albums. Some of these are remasters, others include b-sides, outtakes and live recordings. There are of course a select few which include all of the above for a highly inflated price. This is my list of albums which I’d like to have a 25th anniversary re-release next year, Why just 25 years, because in 1994 when these albums were released I turned 30, it’s as simple as that.
Weezer’s Blue Album and Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain are two albums which I listen to on a regular basis, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was however the only one of the two which I purchased when it was released. Cut Your Hair is the most recognisable song from the album and I can remember singing along to it at work one morning whilst a fellow workmate was looking at me and shaking her head. When I listen to the album now Range Life is my favourite song to sing along to. It’s a song which is also a little infamous due to the verse which appears to poke fun at The Smashing Pumpkins and the Stone Temple Pilots. After taking a few years to appreciate Weezer’s Blue Album I think I’ve made up for it and the album is one of my favourites to listen to in the car.
If I was going to pick two albums which are almost definitely going to get 25th Anniversary re-releases they would be Jeff Buckley’s Grace and Liz Phair’s Whip-smart. The think that it’s almost 25 years since Grace was released makes me feel old. It’s still an amazing album to listen to and his cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallejulah is sublime. There are times when I wish artists would hear listen to another artists cover and think they can’t match this, lets look at something else. Hallejulah is one of those songs.
One of my favourite albums from this year was the re-release of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. For the strength of that album alone I’m predicting Whip-smart will get a re-release. I also think a whole new generation needs to discover her music because she’s a damn good lyricist and singer.
Whilst we’re on the subject of artists who deserve a whole new audience Veruca Salt’s American Thighs was one of the stand out debut albums of 1994. The guitar driven dual female vocal harmonies from Louise Post and Nina Gordon are still great to listen to today.
You may have noticed by now that all the artists on the list are American. A few years earlier the I’d have been picking British bands but not 1994. The simple reason for this is that I hate Britpop, full stop. Why, I’ve never quite been able to pin it down, although a recent article in the Guardian suggesting that Britpop led to Brexit may just answer the question.
There is however one British album from 1994 which stands out and that’s Portishead’s Dummy, it was mesmersing then and I was still in awe of it a couple of days ago when I listened to it. Do I think it needs a re-release, I’m not sure. There’s a certain allure in Beth Gibbons’ vocals being at times, just that little bit unobtainable and a remaster may just spoil the magic.
Finally, I should apologise for not posting for a while. I’m still learning a routine and this is one of four drafts which I’ve finally published.
“And you can never quarantine the past” Gold Sounds– Pavement
There are days in Australian history which are remembered for the bushfire events which occurred on those days, the 7th of February 2009, now forever known as Black Saturday, is one of those days. The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper tells the story of one the fires on Black Saturday, moving from the fire on the day and the devasting impact it had, to the investigation and eventual arrest of the person thought responsible for the fire, the story of the accused himself and then finally the court case and sentencing. For anyone this is not an easy book to read, as a resident of the region in which the fire occurred, both then and now, the book is even harder to read. For those who were directly affected by the fire on the day I cannot imagine how they would have the strength to read this book.
Instead of reviewing The Arsonist I have chosen to write about some of my reactions to the book. I do this because as an almost lifelong resident of the Latrobe Valley and also a former long term employee of Hazelwood Power Station I don’t believe I can be impartial in my views. I trust there is still something to learn from what I write and although I do have some minor quibbles with some things Chloe Hooper has written, I believe The Arsonist is an extraordinary achievement and she should be wholly congratulated for it.
There are always times in your life when you remember what you were doing at a given day and time. At just after 6am on the 8th of February 2009 I was in a queue waiting to use the car wash near Mid Valley Shopping Centre in Morwell. Apart from the windows which I managed to clean so I was able to drive my car was covered in ash which had been rained down onto the car the evening before. Once I was able to clean my car I headed to Hazelwood Power Station to start day shift. I had my first real view of some of devastation wreaked by the fire the previous day as I walked from the car park towards the power station. There would have many times during the day when I could look across to Churchill and see the blackened hills behind it. In the first chapter of The Arsonist Chloe Hooper describes how the investigators on that Sunday worked out where the fire started in two places behind Churchill. As I read this it gave me a very strange feeling to realise that as they worked I was looking across to where they were.
I will remember the tears in my eyes after reading the second chapter of The Arsonist for many years to come. Most of the stories of what happened to the victims of the fire I already knew, in one case I know someone who was on a nearby property and survived. There is another story in the chapter which I was told by someone who was there. What Chloe has written and what I remember being told shortly after the fire are almost exactly the same thing. The chapter also brought back many other memories of that time. There were family and friends who lost homes, even now I can still meet someone who was directly affected by the fire, it is a signpost in the lives of everyone who lived in the Valley that day.
It is at this point I’ll admit that I struggled to know what to write about the second and third parts of The Arsonist. I’m not one who bays for blood, I rarely read the local paper, detest talk-back radio as a medium and only read the sport pages of the Herald Sun during footy season. That Brendan Sokaluk was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced for the Churchill fire is a distant event to me. Do I believe Brendan Sokaluk was guilty, until I read the book I didn’t know, after reading it I’d have to say yes. That’s my opinion and Chloe Hooper has skilfully written The Arsonist so that everyone who reads the book can make that decision for themselves. I do have some thoughts about Brendan Sokaluk’s history detailed in the book which I don’t wish to share. Also, as mentioned earlier I have some minor quibbles about the book, they are related to Latrobe Valley history and for the moment I’m going to keep them to myself.
Finally, in reading The Arsonist I recognise that I have been one of the haves rather than have nots in the Valley. Much of the economic deprivation described in the book has never applied to me because, until Hazelwood Power Station was shut down last year, I was full time employed in the power industry for over thirty years. Now I’m a casual worker for a local business, it is a job which requires me to be discreet and therefore I won’t say what I do. If Black Saturday was ever to happen again, I know what I may be asked to do, I don’t relish that prospect.
Anytime I pass, let alone walk into a bookshop, I’ll always find something I want to take home and add to my TBR- To Be Read pile. Seperate to the TBR pile is the MRT- Must Read That pile. I’m too scared to count the former and I wouldn’t be alone in saying the latter is too big to count. During the trip to Tassie last week the TBR pile grew a little and shrunk a bit.
Despite my best efforts to finish reading Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls prior to the trip I found it was a book which needed to be read slowly and I only just finished it prior to coming home. I cannot praise The Silence of the Girls highly enough and there were often times when I re-read passages just to enjoy their beauty.
My main reading failure of the trip was not spending enough time with Ellen Van Neerven’s Comfort Ford. Each time I pick it up I find something new to savour and I only managed to do this a once on the trip. I was sitting quietly whilst photographs were being taken, thankfully of a building and not me, and I opened the page to this intensely beautiful poem. You can just feel the sadness building to that poignant last line.
The trip back on the ferry was calm and pleasant and I spent most of the time reading Jane Rawson’s From The Wreck. One of the nice aspects of being on Twitter is the ability to tweet to an author when I start reading their book and to say how much I enjoyed reading it afterwards. There was also a bit of banter about avoiding being shipwrecked, the subject of the book, which adds to the enjoyment of giving positive feedback.
Now a little note about tourist brochures. My wife and I both enjoy walking but our knees don’t appreciate steep tracks as much as they used to. In one of the brochures we found a place called Snug Falls which was only a short drive south of Hobart. The brochure suggested the walk to the falls was pleasant, it turned out to be a grade 3 track which took some effort to complete. The falls are stunning, which you can see from the photo below, but I don’t imagine that we’ll ever get to see them again.
Lastly I must apologise about the tardiness of this post. Holidays, work and other time constraints have made it difficult complete it and although I’d like to add a few more things they can be left for another day.
Top image: The Book Cellar Campbell Town, Tasmania Bottom image: Snug Falls, Tasmania
Welcome to my first full posting and a little bit of an introduction to my reading interests. We’re off to Tassie next week and the inevitable question of which books do I take is almost taking up as much thought as what clothes do I pack and how much shaving kit can I sneek in without someone else noticing. As we’ll be taking the car over on the Spirit of Tasmania there’s a big temptation to pack a few extra books with the current count being two poetry books, a collection of crime short stories and an anthology.
I loved John Clarke and am not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears on hearing the news of his untimely passing. Tinkering is one of those books which you can dip into when you have limited time and thus is perfect for holidays. The same can said for short stories which is why Bloody Scotland will be in the book bag. Bloody Scotland, the festival Scottish Crime Writing which is held in Stirling, Scotland each year, is on this weekend and I think that’s a perfectly good reason to bring it along.
When it comes to poetry. I’m a novice with a willingness to learn. In the foreword to Dorothy Porter’s The Bee Hut Andrea Goldsmith wrote
Dorothy Porter never went anywhere without a volume of poetry. Whether to the local coffee shop or to Antarctica, a book of poems, and often several, travelled with her.
Hobart will be as close to Antarctica as I’ll get for awhile so The Bee Hut will be in the bag along with Ellen Van Neerven’s excellent Comfort Food.
Finally, you may have noticed the absence of a novel. Don’t worry, I’ll be heading to Melbourne for a day trip tomorrow with the main intention being a visit to the new Readings bookstore at the State Library. I won’t be coming away empty handed and thus something will be finding its way into the book bag for the trip.
Thank you for reading and any feedback or encouragement would be greatly appreciated.
Quote: Andrea Goldsmith, foreword to The Bee Hut- Dorothy Porter. Black Inc, 2009
Hello and thank you for looking in. As much as I enjoy my Twitter account I wanted to have somewhere to place longer thoughts on some of my interests, this is that place. Firstly, a little bit about me. I’ve lived in the Latrobe Valley for nearly all of my life and until last year I was a shift worker in the power industry, an enforced change has meant that I no longer have full time employment. At 54 years of age, and with a partner who is a committed full-time teacher, I need to keep my brain active during the day. I certainly hope this site achieves that aim.