The Arsonist by Sue Miller

A funny thing happened on the way to the iPad.

I had downloaded Sue Rimingtons “Close Call” from my local library.  It had been sitting there for a couple of days and I was looking forward to it.  So I tapped the icon to open it and had a moment of confusion.  Something was wrong.  I closed the book then re-opened it with the same result.  The header said I was to read the book of my choice but the content was different.  And so it was page after page.  Somehow the wrong book had downloaded with the right header.  See what I mean.

sue miller - the arsonist

It was out of library hours so I couldn’t do anything about the mistake so I started to read this unsolicited book and got a pleasant surprise.  The Arsonist by Sue Miller turned out to be a well told and interesting story.

There is a well blended mixture of aid workers in Africa, life in a small country American community, retirement, Alzheimer’s, an arsonist at work, producing a small town newspaper, the divisions which occur in a town over local issues, and of course, a love story to tie all threads together.

I found it quite seamless as it moved from setting to setting with different combinations of characters.  There was never any confusion as to the people being written about and that to me is one of the most important skills that an author can have.  To use as few words as possible when introducing a character but words so well chosen that you immediately have a mental image of the person

In one of the threads the character who is showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease is very believable, gradually showing more signs of the progression of the illness.  The author mentions Philip Larkins’ poem “The Old Fools”.  I found it interesting how she just casually wove the name into the story.  I wonder if it was her way of saying, Hey Reader, it’s time you learnt a bit more about this subject.  It wasn’t until I had finished the book that  I decided to check this out .found a whole Bibliography of Alzheimer’s in Poetry.

Larkin begins …..

What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember
Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there's really been no change,
And they've always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
Watching the light move? If they don't (and they can't), it's strange;
			Why aren't they screaming?

Some writers think that Larkin is showing compassion.  I fail to see it.  I find him incredibly cruel.  When our children are growing we take great pride in every little step that takes them closer to adulthood.  We are patient with them (well most of the time) and respect the fact that they are going through a learning experience.. And  I hope most of us show respect and compassion to those who are going through what might be thought of as a rather disorganized reverse procedure,  where both mind and body  start losing the physical and mental skills learned so long ago.

I say Well Done, Sue Miller.  I haven’t read  any of your books before but I would definitely like to read more.  Meanwhile the Library is still trying to work out what happened to my book of choice.

The Rules for Book Reviewing

One of my favorite high standard web sites  to  read is a  Melbourne, Australia based site The Conversation,  an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public. I never fail to find something there to interest me.

Recently there was an article on   The Rules for Book Reviewing   .  which I found very interesting considering the number of WordPress posts on books which  I read each day.   They range from genuine book reviews to the more personal reactions to the book.

The writer of the article included John Updike’s rules for reviewing,

Novelist and reviewer John Updike established five useful rules which are valid today:

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame them for not achieving what they did not attempt.
  2. Give them enough direct quotation – at least one extended passage – of the book’s prose so the reader can form their own impression, can get their own taste.
  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.
  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending.
  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s theirs and not yours?

I don’t attempt to write reviews so I found myself looking at these rules in relation to the blogs I read.  My main thought is that going by these rules some reviews do give away too much of the plot.  I need just enough to know if the storyline is one which will appeal to me.

And the final statement could just as easily apply to readers as well as reviewers -is my lack of enjoyment of the book a result of my failure and not the authors.  Hmmm.   Well.

I invite you to read this article.  It particularly applies to Australian reviewers but it could be interesting to all bloggers who write about their reading experiences, to see if different countries have different cultures in their book reviewing  and to see how these rules compare with their own book blogging  experiences

The Conversation

You might even find other articles which interest you.

book reviewingWe all know a good review when we read one – but what actually differentiates a good review from a bad one? Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND

Image from Prof John Dale’s article on the Rules of Book Reviewing.

A lazy Sunday in Winter

Somehow I was in the mood for being a bit lazy today.  The winter is gradually getting colder but I am warm and snug.  The low sun streaming in the windows has been  alternating with bursts of noisy rain..

After a few chores by lunchtime I was ready to finish reading Maggie O’Farrell;s Instructions for a Heatwave.  How inappropriate has it been reading about London in the midst the 1976 drought, the parched and cracked lawns,  the effect it had on people, particularly Irish born Gretta  Riordan, her three adult children and their worry about the  husband and father who inexplicably has gone missing.

It’s an interesting story about the irritations between various family members,  their problems and misunderstandings.  There is a build up of tensions as various snippets of the family’s background and secrets come to light to help solve the mystery.. As in most novels to my mind there is a slight exaggeration or dramatization of the characters compared to what I would expect in real life but it is a very believable story.  I enjoyed it more than the only other Farrell novel that I have read, The Hand that First Held Mine.

Then by chance this afternoon I watched the 1966 movie of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, a clunky old movie which I found quite riveting.  I had read this book early in its life and had seen the movie before.  I was very much a Ray Bradbury fan, seeing how ordinary people would cope with a strangely changing society.  But after so long just the overall impression remained,  not much in the way of detail.

It was quite distressing seeing all those familiar books being burnt, cover after cover in the flames, always enough time to appreciate the book which was being burnt. It can happen.  It has happened.  And the censorship of books is a small example of the  book burning. mentality.  I am old enough to have read Lady Chatterley’s Lover from a copy sold from under the counter by an obliging bookseller.  And it is quite embarrassing to look at the list of books which used to be banned in Australia, a list full of well known and respected authors.

But attitudes change.  Mainly it is the political influence which moulds  the censorship ideas. These days printed books on pornography, suicide and  anything which encourages terrorism comes under close scrutiny in Australia.  Less easy to police though is the internet.

As reading is always associated with coffee for me, today’s coffee came from a newly acquired Nespresso machine.  It makes a beautiful coffee but my main complaint is with the bully boys who control the sale of the coffee capsules to make my coffee.  To shop online I am quite happy to supply my name and address and credit card details but this firm is unbelievable, the amount of information they extracted from me before they would send me a single capsule.  What control.. What manipulation.   What the heck does it matter where I had bought the machine .  What if it had been a present and I didn’tknow its source, would they have refused to send me coffee capsules ?  I’m surprised they didn’t ask my bra size and shoe size !

Instructions for a Heatwave

The Humble Handkerchief

There are the big things in life which give you much pleasure and then there are the little things.  The morning shower, having nice clean clothes to get dressed in and a drawer containing a pile of freshly  pressed handkerchiefs. Spots, striped, plain, check or floral, which will I have today ? And unless its a morning where great haste is needed it will be one that tones with the clothes I am wearing.

Pressed HankiesOr are you one of these people who use those slimy little squares of disintegrating paper which I find so repulsive.  People look so attractive clutching their bundle of slime, trying to find a dry corner to use. . A quick look around, There’s nowhere I can get rid of it.  Shove it back in the pocket.  What happens  when you toss it in the washing machine without remembering to  to check the pockets.  A basketful of snowflaked clothes.

But tell me, don’t celebrities ever have a problem with a nose ?  There they go, sashaying down the red carpet,  held together with double-sided tape and a swathe or two of fabric, and absolutely  nowhere to hide a hanky or a tissue and not a handbag in sight   What do they do.  I couldn’t imagine leaving the house without a drip catcher or two about my body.  Tucked in the top of a stocking ?:  In my knickers ?  Oh what a terrible thought. So where has Miranda Kerr stashed her hanky, her tissue, her boogie rag, her snot catcher.  How I do envy her – I mean with her dry nose and  being able to leave the house without a hanky, nothing else.

miranda-kerr-makes-sexy-entrance-with-plunging-neckline-at-vanity-fair-oscars-party-2014-01Meanwhile, pegged on the clothesline, small collections of dainty pieces of lawn (a fine all-cotton fabric) are  santizing in the sunshine while I sit in my favourite spot on the deck.

Bench on back deck

Oh where, or where

Has my hanky hidden

Oh where, oh where can it be,

It is oh so soft

Ready  for my bidding

Oh where oh where can it be.

 

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Leunig on the Literature of You and Me

The Literature of You and Me by Michael Leunig from his Michael Leunig Appreciation Page

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-Leunig-Appreciation-Page/175074566012104

leunigI  will now look at my shopping lists with fresh eyes.  How lucky we are to be able to communicate with others via the written word and even to communicate with ourselves in the same way.

You find the most important writings in the most unusual places.So thank you Michael Leunig.

Journey to the Stone Country – Alex Miller and ideas on Conservation

Plenty has been written about the storyline of Journey to the Stone Country.  We have a  fortyish woman who was raised on an outback Queensland station and an aboriginal man who grew up in the same area.  They meet  and when working together visit a long deserted, decaying station house

The house was left with its contents intact so we are given an understanding of what the life was like when the occupants were alive.  My interest was suddenly sparked when the question was raised about the rightness or otherwise of preserving or conserving objects from the past. exactly as they were found.

So imagine standing in the dining room of a fully furnished house whose air has not been disturbed by a human for a long while  Can you feel the previous dwellers.?  Do you feel comfortable or is there a shiver down your spine ? Do you feel that you are intruding on something private ?

Preserve 1One thing we should all treasure is our privacy. With social media this is becoming something that people have less and less regard for. We can have our discussions in our blogs but surely we all draw the line at just how much about ourselves we will reveal.  So if we preserve these objects from the past are we intruding on the privacy of the owners.

Preserve 2When we do conserve the past does that intangible atmosphere disappear ?

Preserve 3Alex Miller gives a very convincing argument which carries you along while you are reading.  In this case it was a substantial house which was the object in question. But how often when driving out in the country have you seen a clump of daffodils just inside the paddock fence, or a lone fruit tree in a most unlikely place and you realise that once there was probably a hut or home on that site

I have done a fair amount of family history research over the years and I have come across documents that have made me mentally apologize to the people for having intruded on their privacy, As far as I am concerned they will remain private.

But on the other hand look at this hut.  It is tucked away in a back yard in Castlemaine, Victoria, and you can see it by driving up the side lane.  Such a pretty little hut, or should I call it a cottage.  My McDonald great-grandparents lived  in this cottage in 1861-2 and had a couple of children there.

CottageCastlemaineI can use my imagination to try and re-create the lifestyle of Jane and Robert.  Would I have different emotions if the cottage had been allowed to fall into disrepair ? Would I feel their ghosts beside me ?  I am pleased that someone has taken the trouble to keep the cottage painted and in good repair.

Alex Miller would say that we have kept the fabric but lost the spirit.

December – From the Libraries – Nesbo, Galbraith, Rankin, Mankell, Hornby and Miller

Some months are good for reading and some aren’t. When you’re enjoying a book you can find plenty of time for reading but if the pages are dragging then daily reading time dwindles. December was a good month and here are my reactions   You can find out more about the stories elsewhere in WordPress blogs, written by people who specialize in doing that.

Police by Jo Nesbo

I was just finishing this book at the beginning of the month.. You either like crime novels or you don’t.  You either like translations of Scandivian crime novels or you don’t.  I do, and this book was no exception. And a lot depends on the translator to produce a fluid translation in the new language. This was the tenth book in the Harry Hole series and didn’t disappoint.  I’ve been interested to note that  Nesbo is now working on a couple of new novels under the nom-de-plume of  Tom Johansen.

Cuckoo Calling by Robert Galbraith aka J.K.Rowling

I go to the library to collect books that I have decided I want to read but I always have a quick look at the Returned Books Shelf.  You never know what you might find there.  On one such day Cuckoo Calling was displayed prominently.  Now I am full of admiration for J.K.Rowling for her ability to write books that children want to read.  But I found her first adult novel, Casual Vacancy, very disappointing and had decided never again !  Famous last words. There it was, sitting on the shelf mocking me, Cuckoo Calling, so down it came.  And the inevitable happened, I just loved it.

That wasn’t my reaction in the first three pages where she set up the crime which is going to need solving.  My prejudices were there and I was muttering words like Adjective Junkie, and, Any High School kid could do better than that. Bees humming AND buzzing in the same sentence,  Not the bees that I know.   But once she starts the real story she is off and running, a real story-teller.

There is the suitably dishevelled, highly intelligent but damaged detective, struggling to make a living.  He is assisted by a delightful, resourceful and tactful Secretary who he gradually comes to realize that he couldn’t do without. (I’ve already cast the delightful Scottish actress Kelly McDonald in the role of the Secretary ! )  It sounds familiar, doesn’t it and I wonder if Rowling had a smile on her face some of the time while writing.

The end is such that further stories could be written.   How they would fare I do not know as even though I enjoyed the books the characters don’t have the depth, that you find in a Henning Mankell or Jo Nesbo book,  which you need for a lengthy series.

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

Knots and Crosses is another  random choice book, displayed front and centre on the Returned Book shelf,  just waiting to be taken home for a visit.  Over the years I have seen TV interpretations of the Rebus series.  I remember enjoying the series when John Hannah played Rebus but when a different actor took over the role they became just another cop show of no particular interest, I even read a couple of the novels.  But that is all in the past and the details were fading from the memory  so I was a bit amazed when I found myself enjoying Ian Rankin’s first novel far more than I expected to.  Rankin’s words and my imagination renewed my interest in  the characters I remember seeing  on the small screen. Further interest came from filling in the earlier life of Rebus.

The Pyramid by Henning Mankell

This book got renewed twice at the library before I finished reading it. This was possible as it is a series of five  shorter Kurt Wallander mysteries which progress through his life from his beginnings as a detective, through his marriage, fatherhood and  the breakup of his marriage. But it wasn’t written until eight of the main Wallander mysteries had been written and helped to fill in the back story.

As well as wallowing in crime stories there were a couple of light pieces from the library on my mini ipad, used for late night or coffee shop reading.

How to be Good by Nick Hornby – a bit of fluff

Lovesong by Alex Miller  With an inter-country marriage how do you cope with the family ties pulling in different directions.

One thing I don’t lack is a choice of bookmarks for each of my reads.

Bookmarks 2