AWW 2014 – Challenge Complete

Hurrah, the day I have been waiting for, as the year is almost up and I had to get on with completing what I set out to do, which was the Franklin level – read 10 and review at least 6.

The books I read and reviewed were:

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny

All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss

Me of the Never Never by Fiona O’Loughlin

The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement by Virginia Lloyd.

The books I read but didn’t review were:

Playing With Water by Kate Llewellyn (yet again!)

Hannah and the Tomorrow Room by Libby Gleeson (and Hannah the Famous)

A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn

Tiddas by Anita Heiss

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Writing and reading is so often a one-way street, author writes the book and you the reader reads it, and never the twain shall meet – especially if the author is late. But this year I was blessed with some form of contact with almost all the AWWs on the list (with the exception of Cato (deceased), Gleeson and Kent). This was in the form of emails or twitter conversations, and one face to face meeting when Fiona O came to Quorn last Thursday.

heiss twitter

But the most surreal moment of the year was turning up in A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn!

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The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement by Virginia Lloyd

First published 2008 by University of Queensland Press.

the young widow's book of home improvement

I had been meaning to reread this book for quite a while, as I had not looked at it for almost five years.

I originally bought it seven months after becoming a young widow myself, and what a happy day that was. I stumbled upon it in a bookshop in Mount Gambier, where I had gone for my first child-free break, and the title leapt right out at me. I had been 37 years old when my husband died. I wasn’t old. He had left me with four children and an unfinished house which we had been owner-building, so I also liked the sound of the home improvement aspect.

Right next to this book was another widow book, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, so I bought both and was absurdly happy for the rest of the day. In fact that moment still stands in my memory as a high point during those early months.

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Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

First published 2013 by HarperCollins

maya's notebook

Here was a book with both my daughters’ names on the front cover so I had to read it. And Isabel partly got her name from Ms Allende.

I first heard of her when I was in Cuzco Peru almost 20 years ago, when a fellow traveller passed on one of her books to me – Eva Luna. And through that book I made a new friend Arturo, when he spotted me with it in the main square and struck up a conversation. Over the years I have read quite a few of her books (12 when I counted), some in Spanish, others translated over to English, but I had not done so for several years.

One thing I like about some of the Latin American writers is the way they are a law unto themselves. We westerners are so bound by rules such as “show don’t tell”, but Allende threw it away years ago and has so far managed to get away with it. Another rule we have is “stick to a genre”; Latin Americans say bugger that and go and invent their own!

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Me of the Never Never by Fiona O’Loughlin

First published 2011 by Hachette Australia.

me of the never never

Ah the celebrity memoir. I do not read a lot of these because all too often they are ghosted by someone whose name never sees light of day.

I’m not sure why I picked this one up, except for the Alice Springs connection, because I was living in Alice Springs in 1998-2004 when O’Loughlin’s career took off. Even though I didn’t go to her big show at Araluen, I remember it being advertised everywhere and in a way I feel like I was there. I like the clever title too, heh heh, Me of the Never Never.

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Am I black enough for you? by Anita Heiss

First published 2012 by Bantam.

am i black enough for you

I wasn’t going to review this book. Mainly because almost everyone already did when it came out and I didn’t expect to have anything new to say about it. But I knew I wanted to read it, and once I got started I began reflecting on the subject of racism, and how I have tried to keep it out of my life. Sort of.

When I was a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, the same era that Heiss grew up in, I was blessed with a few teachers who taught me to respect the ways of the original inhabitants of this wide brown land, but at the same time, Aboriginal jokes were still told (as were Irish jokes etc, although we didn’t touch Jewish jokes after what they’d been through) and names such as abo, coon and boong were also in use. Another word I heard was nunga, which I assumed was another of these derogatory words – it was years before I worked out it was a word Nungas (from southern SA) like to call themselves. I also lived in a very white part of Adelaide, and the only Aboriginal people I came across were the ones who liked to sit drinking in Victoria Square.

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

First published 2013 by Picador.

burial rites

We humans are so fascinated with murder and murderers. Some of us devour every jot and tittle written by salivating journalists of real murder cases; others love their crime shows, be it Underbelly or NCIS or The Doctor Blake Mysteries. The masses buy the Chopper Read books, but even people who consider themselves higher minded than that are drawn to things like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood or whatever Helen Garner has spent years researching. Some of us think that life is so tough we only wish for light reading, and sit up late with Hamish Macbeth or Miss Fisher or some old Agatha Christie mystery. As someone sagely put it, “happiness does not sell books; murders do”.

Based on true events, Burial Rites is about a woman convicted for her role in the murder of two men; awhile ago my stepson was put away for the murder of two women. In the year and a bit since this happened I’ve pondered the subject a lot, and have passed very few days in which I did not think about it, and I think I’ve come up with an answer to why we are so interested in it. What we want to know, in a nutshell is, “what drives people to murder?” and “am I capable of doing the same if I were in their shoes?” Sub-questions I imagine Hannah Kent to have asked are “what drives a woman to murder?” and “what drives a woman to two murders?”

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All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato

First Published 1978

all the rivers run

My parents were absolutely enthralled with All the Rivers Run the miniseries when it first screened in 1983 – I was a kid of 12 and didn’t get to stay up to see all of it. My dad, who is mad about paddle steamers and has had a lifelong passion for the Murray, was in heaven.

We made trips to Echuca in early ’84, when the Pevensey still had its “Philadelphia” name plate, and again when it screened again in 1987. By then I was old enough to see the entire thing; I was now going on 16, and got the book for my birthday from my newly remarried dad.

Having spent so many of my childhood holidays at different spots along the river, I could not only picture the happenings in the book, but also smell and almost taste those places. And with a family friend, Judith Crossley, writing folksongs about the riverboats Coonawarra and Enterprise, I felt that I belonged to the river and its steamers.

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