Friday, 24 July 2015

Welcome to My Bookshelves with Eliza Henry-Jones

Eliza Henry-Jones is a writer from the Dardenong Ranges in Victoria.  She was a Young Writer in Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in WA in 2012 and a resident at Varuna in the Blue Mountains in 2015.  Her debut novel In the Quiet is published by Fourth Estate.  You can read my review of it here.

The problem with being a book loving hoarder who marries a book loving hoarder is that, at ages twenty-five and twenty-six, we currently have well over three and a half thousand books in our house. Some on this massive shelf, others on one of the other five smaller shelves, and others packed (sadly) into boxes. We’re currently in the midst of packing to move, and 90% of what I’m packing is BOOKS. And I keep trying to stop myself buying more and jump on the ebook wagon, because on the current trajectory I’m on, books will soon outweigh the mass of our actual house. 

When we moved into our house, we had to insulate, plaster, put flooring down and paint the room where the bookshelves now are. It’s probably the nicest room in the house. The shelves are recycled timber, which is even nicer. We put in the floor to ceiling shelves last year. I had grand ideas of separating into genre and alphabetising. Ha. HAHA! I was so funny back then. 

Our organisation is thus: fiction on the left, reference on the right, with classics and memoirs and misc somewhere in the middle. Here are some of books in the miscellaneous middle section of our shelves. A mix of store brought, gifts, hand me downs, op-shop finds and books from studying literature at uni. We have a very eclectic mix of books, from contemporary pop fiction to literary classics. We also have a massive amount of biology, horse and psychology reference books and literary journals. 

A lot of our books have been passed down from our parents and grandparents. Some of them are quite old and delicate. And that’s a very wonderous thing. Below is "Modern Cookery" by Eliza Acton (book on top) published in 1850 and “Science ,Literature and Art” published in 1842. 

Note below “illustrated by numerous engravings on wood” and written by “Joseph Cauvin, Esq. - the various departments by eminent literary and scientific gentleman”. It really hits you how much publishing has changed over the past 173 years. 

I also have a vast collection of Young Adult and Children’s books, including an impressive collection of The Saddle Club and the Jill series. Which I still read. Reading is like eating for me - sometimes I read because its good for me, even if I don’t really enjoy it. But sometimes it’s just the most lovely thing in the world to comfort read childhood favourites (in the same way one comfort eats an entire tub of ice-cream). 

Here’s a picture of my chicken checking out “Lost and Found” by Brooke Davis. This is one of my favourite pictures in the world. 

Thanks for the tour, Eliza!  

You can grab a copy of Eliza's book In the Quiet in all good bookstores now.  Remember, support your local indie bookshop.  Saturday August 8th is National Bookshop Day!  

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A few photos from Stephanie Bishop's Author Talk at the Bookcaffe

Today, I ran an author talk at the bookshop where I work.  The author in attendance was the charming Stephanie Bishop, author of The Other Side of the World.  Stephanie was shortlisted for the 2014 Australian/ Vogel award for this novel and she was one of the Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Novelists.  Her book has been published this month by Hachette Australia.

The Other Side of the World is the story of Henry and Charlotte, a couple of 'Ten Pound Poms' who emigrate to Western Australia in the mid-1960s with their two young daughters.  Charlotte, who has spent most of her adult life in Cambridge in the UK misses home terribly and finds the hot, dry climate of Perth unbearable.  Henry, who was enthusiastic about the move, finds life less than easy as tensions appear in his professional life when his co-workers discover that he is Anglo-Indian rather than the prestigious Englishman they had all envisioned.  The novel is rendered in stunning prose, and Bishop has the power to get to the heart of a feeling in language that is so stark and accurate that it makes you stop and think.  Her insights on motherhood were a real hit at the author-talk.

Stephanie spoke with the group about drawing on her grandmother's experiences moving to Sydney in similar circumstances, and I was particularly struck by her response to a question about writing real life.  When asked if she skirted away from writing things that may have been uncomfortable parts of real life, she said that no, she had to keep those in, and that it was the boring and mundane things that were left out.  I thought this was a very brave and very wise answer, and I was pleased to hear that her grandmother enjoyed the book when it was read to her.

The ending of The Other Side of the World gave the novel an interesting link to Ibsen's The Doll's House, in which Nora must first recognise her domesticity and then decide whether to stay or to go.  For Bishop, herself interested in the idea of the new domesticity, it was important that the reader make up their own mind.  I urge you to read the novel and share your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Book Review: In the Quiet

In the Quiet
Eliza Henry-Jones
Fourth Estate 2015

Cate Carlton has died, but she hasn't moved on.  She finds herself stranded in an in-between space, watching her family go on without her, unable to communicate with them or move on.  She also can't remember how she died.  In the tradition of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, Eliza Henry-Jones' debut novel is a brave interrogation of love, loss and family, told from the point of view of a departing loved one.  It is a book that will make you laugh, cry and want to hug the pages.  It is my favourite book of the year so far.

The novel is told from Cate's point of view as she watches her family in the aftermath of her own death.  Her daughter, Jessa, is thirteen and heading for a tumultuous ride of hormones and first love without the guidance of her mother.  Raised on a horse farm, Jessa takes after her mother both in her skill on horseback and in her determination and stubbornness.  It is Jessa who goes out on the bush track again and again, searching for her mother's prized horse, Opal, who has bolted.  Meanwhile, Bass (Sebastian), Cate's husband is floundering.  The children are eating whatever they want and the housework isn't being done.  Bass is stuck in suspended animation.  It is only Cate's friend and the family's neighbour, Laura who gets things done, coming by to help with the horses and dish out tough love to Bass and the kids.  She brings with her a nephew, Henry, whose mother is so drug-dependent that she can't always be there for Henry. Henry approaches Jessa as he would a skittish horse, gently and calmly so as not to spook her away.  Then there are the twins, Cameron and Rafferty.  They've almost finished high school and must face what's next.  Cameron is anxious and sensitive, while Raff seems intent on messing up, yet is the most capable in the face of what has happened.  The boys are so similar they even manage to fall for the same girl.  Finally, there is Bea-- Cate's sister-- who wants so desperately to be some part of a replacement for Cate, but is her own worst enemy.  Will this family (unconventional as it may be) manage to heal each other?

Told in scenes which move back and forth in time, this novel is full of atmosphere.  By page ten I was in tears, and I didn't think I could handle the rest on a bad week, but something about the voice of the novel was impossible to keep away from.  While the themes of the novel are incredibly moving and at times upsetting, this was a strangely comforting book.  I felt the power of Cate's love for her children and family as if she were with me, telling me her story.  The sense of place in the novel was also a highlight, as the setting of the horse farm was rich and detailed with all five senses working in accord to create a picture.  This book presented a familiar yet often overlooked portrait of life for an average Australian family, and their response to tragedy as well as the irony of our being able to hear the thoughts of their mother when they could not, made for a heart-wrenching read.  I don't think I have ever read anything quite like this and I gave it five stars.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Reading Round-Up: June

Is it just me, or has June been another really long month?  For me, it's been four weeks of holiday from Uni, four weeks of reading, four weeks of trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to get started on my next WIP and forget that my current WIP is being read by the judges of an award.  There's been a bit of bookselling in there as well.  I tried adult colouring in, and found it surprisingly fun, thought it still breaks my heart a little that colouring in books are outselling novels by a cracking pace in Australian bookstores all over the map.

Perth has had its warmest winter since the 1980s but you could have fooled me.  I started June by going to Margaret River for the Readers and Writers festival and I think I just about lost a finger or too.  Thank goodness for electric blankets!  I wrote a few short stories, procrastinated about working on the novel, and managed to crank out the first draft of an essay.

And I read some books, so without further ado I shall tell you about those.

1. The First Bad Man by Miranda July

I'd never read any Miranda July before, but I was drawn to the concept of this story after reading a review of it on one of the major newspaper's websites.  The narrator of the story is a very strange narrator, who is a person I would probably really dislike if I met her in real life (and other characters seem to dislike her too-- she is an office manager but works from home at the request of other staff) but because the book is from her point of view, as the reader you start to inhabit her head and the things she does start to make sense.  When her bosses' 20 something year old daughter needs a place to stay, what at first starts off as a story about bullying and violence turns into a novel about love, unconventional families and the fluidity of sexuality, all told in July's quirky, original voice.  At times it made me profoundly uncomfortable but I was aware of the power the book held over me in doing so.

2. The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz

This book was a gift.  For my birthday... two years ago.  And I finally finished it!  It takes you through some mathematical concepts by applying them to real world situations and was really interesting but I could only handle it in small doses.

3. The Serpent Papers by Jessica Cornwell

A literary mystery in the vein of The Da Vinci Code, this novel is the beginning of a trilogy in which a young woman with a talent for finding old manuscripts must track down a book belonging to an alchemist, all the while being tracked by a murderer connected to the mystery of the book.  The scenery of Barcelona was beautiful and the only reason I kept reading, because the rest of the book was dry and jumped from POV to POV far too much.

4. Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

This was a book club book.  It wasn't really my kind of thing but I did enjoy switching off and reading something that I didn't have to work too hard at.  Predictably for Harris (who also wrote the original True Blood books), the character seems to be a total Mary Sue, but she's also a librarian so she gets bonus points for that.  A dark book that deals with its subjects a tad too lightly, I don't think I'll be reading any more Aurora Teagarden mysteries.

5. How to Become a Writer by Lorrie Moore

An individual short story by Lorrie Moore which takes a satirical look at the the traditional path taken by modern young writers, navigating the absurdity that is life, writing, and trying to work out who you are.  I'm now an instant fan of Lorrie Moore and I've bought the full collection that this came in, which is called Self/Help.  I also own Bark and Birds of America.

6. Lost Boy and Other Stores by Margaret River Press

I've reviewed this collection earlier this month and you can read my review here.

7. Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier

This is the first book in a new fantasy series by Juliet Marillier, a Perth writer who is also a member f a druid order.  It follows Blackthorn, a healer committed to help anyone who asks her for seven years, and her accidental companion, Grim, as they take up their posts in Dalreida as healers and become sort of problem solvers as well.  This was a really interesting book, and I liked the spiky character of Blackthorn, though at times I found the voice of Prince Oran a little hard to believe.  Looking forward to the next book in October.  I'm always impressed with a mystery to which I do not fully guess the ending.

8. The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

I loved this book and reviewed it here.

9. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The book that won this year's Pulitzer Prize is a large one, not unlike last year's The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, but that is where the similarities end.  This is a gentle novel set in France during the second world war, and it tells the story of Marie-Laure, who is blind and learns her way about the streets with the aid of a model built by her father.  The pair flee the Nazis in possession of a cursed gem, which just happens to be at the top of Hitler's wish list for his Fuhrermuseum.  Meanwhile, Werner is sent to an elite Nazi school where he shows an aptitude for trigonometry and building radios, a talent that will cause their paths to meet.

10. The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

Excited to read this one as I will be meeting the author in a few weeks time.  This novel was a contender for the Vogel award two years ago, and has just been published by Hachette Australia.  It is the story of Charlotte and Henry, who emigrate to Australia in the early 1960s.  Henry is optimistic about the move and Charlotte is not, but they have two small girls, and if they leave they'll have to pay the government back for their fare, which they cannot afford.  The longer they stay, the more fissures begin to appear in their marriage, which once seemed sound.  I found this novel thematically very similar to Ibsen's A Doll's House, and I will do a longer review very soon.  I loved this novel and devoured it in a single day.