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Archive for the ‘Mere Musings’ Category

Hi everone. Lisa from ANZ Litlovers has rightly castigated me for not posting something about my absence of late, and along with Sue from Whispering Gums she’s gently been prompting me to post *anything*… So, all’s well, I have just been taking a break and working on other things but reading more than ever. Expect posts to be irregular, though I always reserve the right to post something here (or on Twitter:@johnlboland) from the Sydney Writers’ Festival!

While I’m here (could this be a return in the making?!?), I’d love to share with you a belated best reads from 2016. Call it a top five that may contain more than five (limited to books published in 2016):

solar-bones-by-mike-mccormackSolar bones by Mike McCormack: wow, the Irish really have it going on, don’t they? If Eimear McBride and Lisa McInerney (gritty and prize-winning The glorious heresies) weren’t enough to convince you of this, then Solar bones will. An audacious stream-of-consciousness novel without a single – yes, that’s right: a single! – full stop in sight. A ‘simple’ story about an ordinary family man but in McCormack’s hands it is transcendent. Solar bones won the 2016 Goldsmith’s Prize, which in only its fourth year is proving to be a ripper of a prize, whose purpose is to “celebrate the qualities of creative daring associated with the University and to reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”. Solar bones does just that.

the-lesser-bohemians-by-eimear-mcbrideThe lesser bohemians by Eimear McBride: another coming-of-age story from the Irish sensation, with wall-to-wall sex, and self sabotaging, so it’s not for everyone, but it’s worth the journey, with a fabulous ending. McBride’s now signature prose style is more accessible here than in her glorious (Goldsmith Prize-winning!) debut A girl is a half-formed thing. And you have to admire a writer who says James Joyce is her major influence. I think he’d be proud of this much-anticipated second novel.

days-without-end-by-sebastian-barryDays without end by Sebastian Barry. Fuses elements of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood meridian, Annie Proulx’s Brokeback mountain, with a dash of Aussie movie Priscilla: queen of the desert. What makes this a standout is Barry’s singular narrative voice that is so of its time and locale (Civil War era America) that it rivals Peter Carey’s similar feat in his Booker winner True history of the Kelly gang. I had serious doubts before I read it given I admire Blood Meridian greatly but DWE stands on its own feet.

 

monglow-by-michael-chabonMoonglow by Michael Chabon. Simply sublime. Chabon is such a thoughtful writer. Inserting himself into the action in this delightfully faux memoir, he takes his family history as the starting point for fiction, tracing a story of his (invented) grandparents, particularly his grandfather, who was on the hunt for Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Bruan as WWII came to an end. Flits effortlessly between multiple time frames in the twentieth century. Family secrets abound, and the one Chabon ‘discovers’ about his own bloodline is jaw-dropping.

 

the-sellout-by-paul-beattyThe Sellout by Paul Beatty. I was ahead of the Booker game last year, reading this before it was even longlisted. What can I say? Daring. Subversive. Funny. A biting satire on race-relations in the US. The narrator, whose nickname is the Sellout, takes on the US government in the Supreme Court in a bid to reinstate slavery. That’s just one strand of this riot of a book. Along the way we see a reworking of Huckleberry Finn, while Dickens’s Great Expectations becomes Measured Expectations. Oh, and the Sellout also credits Tennyson with the start of gangster rap. A wild ride. Often uncomfortable. Not for the fainthearted. Loses a bit of traction in the middle, but it’s not about plot, it’s about making a point. Beatty does that and more.

autumn-by-ali-smithAutum by Ali Smith, the first in her seasonal tetralogy that explores our experience of time. Ah, Ali Smith, reading her is like the best of hugs (if you’re a hugging person!). She’s so inventive and playful and clever. Some hilarious Kafkaesque moments (passport application in the local post office ring any bells?!), pinned against a very fresh take on Brexit (the first post-vote novel?) and the rise of humanity’s darker side in the UK and the lack of dialogue that has come with it (a global issue to be sure). A hymn to transient life. I think the four novels, once done and taken together, will be really special. (Fab cover art too,, from David Hockney. Can’t wait to see the others!)

position-doubtful-by-kim-mahoodPosition doubtful by Kim Mahood. A fabulous memoir and a must for anyone seeking to better understand the nexus between white and Indigenous Australia. Mahood writes with the eye of an artist, the mind of a poet, and the soul of someone born of the desert country. An intensely moving personal journey, and a wonderful tribute to the stunning Tanami desert and lake landscape and the many friends loved and lost over decades of inland travels. Assuming it’s eligible this year, if it doesn’t get shortlisted for the Stella Prize (and many others) then there’s something seriously wrong.

There you go, proof that seven into five does go!

Goodness. I intended this to be a short post and now look what I’ve done. Some things don’t change, eh?!

 

 

 

 

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There have been many enjoyable reads this year.  The Boat by Nam Le got 2011 off to a great start with a collection of disperse and riveting ‘long’ shorts.  I then had the pleasure of re-visiting two of Peter Carey’s great novels in Oscar and Lucinda and Illywhacker.  One of the standouts of the year was That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott, winner of the Miles Franklin.  I thoroughly enjoyed David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten – so clever and absorbing, the way the inter-linkages worked was very impressive.  Then onto another debut novel, this time from an Australian, with Favel Parret’s wonderful Past the Shallows.  There was time for some great classics too, like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Later in the year I was thrilled and appalled by Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch – what a ride!  And speaking of rides, what a way to end the year with The Savage Detectivesby Roberto Bolaño: part road story, part loss of innocence, every part fantastic.  You can find the reviews of any of these by searching or by clicking on the tags at the end of this post.

What were your favourites this year?

As for 2012, I’m not about to go in for any challenges.  I just plan on reading more classics, both old – Anna Karenina – and more recent – Bolaño’s epic 2666.  And I shall keep abreast of some hot-off-the-press works.  Apart from that, I shall go where the wind takes me.

I hope you join me for future musings!

All the best for the new year.

John

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For all those lovers of Patrick White’s wonderful Voss – a very interesting discussion on ABC’s The Book Show (16 minutes) on explorer Ludwig Leichhardt’s letters which were read by White in the original German and which, paraphrased, find their way into his characterisation of Voss. 

The D!

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Well it’s that time of year isn’t it?  When we all have a look back at the year that was and pick our favourites.  I read a total of 47 books this year.  Not too bad, but I would have liked to have got nearer 52.  Still, I’ve had other projects on the go this year. 

Anyhow, without further ado, here’s my top five reads for 2010:

1.  The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa – an absolute must read, sublime stuff.  See my musings.

2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – no need to explain this choice.  See my musings.

3. Remembering Babylon by David Malouf – a very Australian story by one of Australia’s best.  See my musings.

4. The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – a difficult masterpiece.  Musings here

5.  Storm Boy by Colin Thiele – I didn’t review this ‘long’ short story; an Australian classic. 

There were plenty of other highlights including: Wanting by Richard Flanagan; Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; Lights Out in Wonderland by the irrepressible DBC Pierre; and finally, A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz. 

2010 Reading Challenges summary: I enjoyed quite a few of the challanges this year.  They are a great way of forcing you to seek out books and authors you wouldn’t otherwise get to.  The details:

I added a healthy 11 books on the 1% Well Read Challenge, based on the ‘1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ list. 

I successfully completed: the Aussie Author Challenge of a ‘Fair Dinkum’ 8 books; the ‘Ten Awards’ Challenge; and, the ‘Classic Snack’ of a paltry 4 classics.

My progress on the others was a little less than desired.  I had fun with the Global Challenge: to read two books from each continent with a preferable mix of more than one author from each.  I achieved North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Australisia, but failed with Africa.  One to recitfy next year.   

Goals for 2011: I’ll try and sneak in a few more classics.  I anticipate reading some more historical fiction.  And, of course, plenty more Australian novels and a good geographic spread of internationals – including Africa!  I’ve found myself reading a few history books this year and that will continue alongside the historical fiction.   

What were your favourite reads of 2010?  And what are the books at the top of your TBR pile for 2011?  Do share. 

Wishing everyone a wonderful 2011,

The D!

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