Tuesday 31 December 2013

Top Ten(ish) Books I Read in 2013 (A Year in Books 2013)

Top Ten Tuesday is a great weekly meme from the folks at The Broke and the Bookish

It's always fun to look back on the reading year, and ponder the best of the year. A tradition I started in 2011, and continued in 2012

This makes three Top Ten Tuesday posts in a row! A personal best effort. 

This year I gave 11 books 5 stars on goodreads. 

My year started with a bang. Possibly my favourite book of the year. Lois Lowry's The Giver

David Weisner's Flotsam was a reread, still worth each and every one of its 5 stars. 

Janet Hunt's E3 Call Home is a great bird book. It seems I've been meaning to do a post about this one all year. 

Susan Hill's Howard's End is on the Landing was a surprise package for me. It was fantastic. 

Jackie French made yet another appearance in my books of the year with A Day to Remember

It seems Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project was a favourite for pretty much everyone who read it, I was no exception.

Joan Lindsay's Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock was everything I hoped it would be. 

It's always a pleasure to read Sonya Hartnett. This year I read her stunning Thursday's Child

I also love a lost cat story. Caroline Paul's Lost Cat

Patrick Ness's incredible, moving masterpiece, A Monster Calls. 

I read two books by David Walliams this year, Billionaire Boy was certainly my favourite. 

Rick Gekoski Tolkien's Gown another gem that remains unblogged, but certainly worth searching out. As I suspect are his other books. 

4 Aussie titles

2 picture books

5 nonfiction/memoir titles

7 female authors

5 male authors

Monday 30 December 2013

Why Don't French Books Sell Abroad?

Recently I came across this most fascinating article from the BBC. Why Don't French Books Sell Abroad? Please take the time to read it. It deals with several intriguing notions about French books, books in translation, and how the language we speak dictates the books which we will have available for us to read. 

To claim that French books don't sell in the Anglophone market is perhaps a big call. Hugh Schofield does grant an exception for classic French authors such as Flaubert and Dumas, but allows only Michel Houellebecq as a modern French writer known outside France. Which is a bit harsh I think. Of course I find it hard to know what has been big sellers in the UK, but certainly Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise were very popular in Australia. But generally  there are too few books available in translation, from any language, French included. 

Sadly mine still sits in the TBR
I tried to read it in Paris this year
but was too busy with the holiday making

English is the predominant language in the world right now. Well, we think it is don't we?  And most of us act as if it is. We anglophones are very often an inward gazing lot. Our culture doesn't encourage looking out towards other languages and cultures for news, for ideas, for literature. I'm always astonished when I watch news in French on the tele, how much more of a world news it is. Sure, France has colonial ties to Africa, and that changes their view, but they are not completely obsessed with what happens in the French speaking world, and only show cute or outrageous happenings in other countries, which is the world view I most often see.

To me, I see our Anglophone introspection as a much bigger hurdle than any perceived problem with image of French books, intellectualism or being all too difficult. We just don't care what's out there in non-English formats. French. Hungarian. Spanish. Tagalog. Whatever. It doesn't matter.

But we are certainly interested in memoirs by Anglophones who found themselves adrift in France for some time, for whatever reason. There are an endless supply of them, and people like me just can't get enough of them. It started way back in 1989, with Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. How we all wanted to buy into that dream. There have been many more since of course. Sarah Turnbull's Almost French was another world wide bestseller. It seems every expat community has people frantically writing about their time in France.

Of course the number of books published in English is huge. Over 300,000 new titles are published in printed form per year in the US. Naturally these figures are somewhat fluid. Wiki has an amazing page listing books published per country per year. The US leads the world, with China and the UK following. Even the relatively modest 150, 000 books published in the UK each year isn't going to leave that much room for French books in translation. We anglophones are already full of our own stuff, we can't keep up with that, no wonder there is little interest in translating non-English authors. Interesting to see France in 11th place with 41, 902 books published in 2011. Of course many of those books will be translations from English and other languages.

"Here in France around 45 out of every 100 novels sold is a translation from a foreign language. With you it's something like three out of every hundred," (from the BBC article) 

Australia comes in 38th, with 8,602 books published (2004 figures), while Canada, not all that much bigger, published 19,900 books in 1996. Obviously we're not pulling our literary weight somehow.

I do agree that French publishing houses have a quite different approach to marketing their books in France. To the foreign eye French books all look the same, as the covers do not seem to be designed to stand out, or even apart, from the next book on the shelf. 

Adult books, Paris, 2010

Kids books, Paris, 2013

Several small publishers are trying to make a difference. Gallic Books publish "The best of French in English." There are two antipodean publishers of children's books who specialise in books in translation (from any language, not just French) - Wilkins Farago here in Australia, and Gecko Press in New Zealand.

Yet clearly someone is watching what happens in France. This years "must read novel" according to Julian Barnes in The Guardian, Stoner, came to attention because of a sudden popularity in France in 2011. So perhaps the overnight success of Stoner, nearly 50 years after it's publication isn't really so mysterious. But why did it become suddenly popular in France? Now that's a mystery.

It seems the Brits have been thinking about this issue for a while. A similar piece in the Guardian in 2008 worried whether The Elegance of the Hedgehog could become popular in Britain. In a companion article from 2008 by Jane Aitken, Managing Director of Gallic Books, who published The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Jane points out the successes of many foreign crime novelists, most famously with the Scandinavians in the past decade or so. She also speculates that foreign authors who may have limited English, and so not be able to participate in author events may put off some English language publishers.

Books in translation is a hot topic just now. The latest Quarterly Essay (52), Linda Jaivin's Found in Translation, In Praise of a Plural World has just been discussed over at Whisperinggums and ANZLitlovers. It's a fascinating discussion, and now I would love to read the essay. Somehow I seem to be good at buying Quarterly Essays, but am not so good with getting the reading done. Maybe this one will be the first?

Happily I'm reading a book in translation at the moment- ETA Hoffmann's The Nutcracker.  I imagine a review will be forthcoming at some stage, in the meantime you can check out my In Translation tag.

Update May 2014
The mystery of the French book covers appears to have been solved! They are building a brand, French publishing houses will publish for particular types of books- and French readers will likely have an allegiance to a publisher more so than an author.

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Books on France, a great 2013 challenge
 from Emma at 
Words and Peace

Sunday 29 December 2013

His Stupid Boyhood

I knew early on that I would read His Stupid Boyhood. It was fate really. I've followed Peter Goldsworthy for quite some time, many years in fact, although I've only read a couple of his books so far. I remember Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam being particularly amazing, but don't think I've read much else til now. Then I saw several rather glowing and intriguing reviews for his new book, a memoir. Once I knew that I would see Peter Goldsworthy (twice) at the Mudgee Readers' Festival in August this year, it was a done deal.

The sessions at Mudgee were everything I hoped them to be. Peter was funny, very funny. The passages he read were captivating. Peter explained that we are all expatriates from the country of our childhood- which is an intriguing way to view your own childhood. It's true, once you emigrate though, you can never really go back. I was astonished at the freedoms Peter enjoyed, he was given a very long leash, a subscription to Scientific American, and various chemicals- a very dangerous combination at times! Naturally I came home from Mudgee clutching my very own copy of His Stupid Boyhood, and recently I got to read it.

Peter Goldsworthy had an interesting childhood. His parents were both teachers and the family moved every two years. Department of Education gypsys, the family moved around Adelaide and South Australia, and to Darwin. Peter attended seven schools, lived in seven homes, and was always moving away from his friends and the familiar. Interesting that he doesn't mention his siblings at all until page 193, and indeed his wife had to point out to him that all the characters in his fiction are only children and that there was no mention of his siblings in his memoir. Which perhaps explains the first paragraph.

We are born narcissists, but most of us grow out of the worst of it by the age of five. I was still going strong at eighteen, which is where this memoir ends; whether I fully grew up after that is another story. 

Peter Goldsworthy is older than me, but we shared some features of our Australian childhoods, even separated by several thousand kilometres and more than a decade. I too remember the great influence of the Australian Womens Weekly in broadening our culinary repertoires from the more traditional meat and three veg.

Once a month curried sausages provided a spicy walk on the mild side, at least until the fateful day she discovered a recipe for 'Chinese Mince' in the latest Women's Weekly, and began her long march into the unknown culinary wilds. 

We all owe the Weekly a debt of gratitude I suspect. I'm rather curious to seek out the Chinese mince recipe that Peter's mother used, although I'm sure it wouldn't seem as exotic 50 years later.

His Stupid Boyhood is also a memoir of Peter as a reader. Peter's family was never to have a tv.

Dad thought we were better off reading, or listening to music, or playing games, although my mother regularly sneaking into the neighbour's to watch 77 Sunset Strip, sipping sherry and snacking on Sao biscuits with cheese and gherkins. 

Perhaps this lack of television, and peripatetic life made Peter the reader he was, which set him on his path to become a doctor and writer. He was a much more erudite reader than I ever was as a child, and I'm sure he still is as an adult. I loved tales of a teenaged Peter swanning about tropical Darwin in a cravat to prove his intellectual state. Today, Peter still combines his work as a GP with his writing. A rather remarkable achievement.

His Stupid Boyhood has also been reviewed at ANZLitlovers.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Christmas Beetles

Christmas in Australia means many things. It's warm and sunny for a start. Well except for this year, which was wet and coolish on the East Coast. Still, great weather for bubbles. No white christmases for us.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Christmas beetles though. They're a familiar sight, attracted by the lights on the verandahs of our nation. There's lots around this year. Although it seems that they may be on the decline. That would be very sad.

In a wonderful moment of serendipity Peter Goldsworthy talked of Christmas Beetles in his memoir His Stupid Boyhood (review to come tomorrow) that I read recently. And naturally he writes about them more beautifully than I ever could.

Luckily, Christmas came early in the Year of the Beetle, bringing swarms of green and gold iridescent scarabs that crowded the windows and streetlights after the first summer thunderstorms. Dozens went into the oubliette of my killing jar, whence they were taken to be pinned out on plywood mounting boards, each in the gilt sarcophagus of itself. 

Everything is more cool if you google it. Even Christmas Beetles. There are 36 species of Christmas Beetles! And I thought there was only one. Now I have no idea which species we have here. Maybe Anoplognathus pallidicollis?

Real Aussies are never afraid to pick up stuff like beetles

They're beautiful when you look at them up close

Over the last few years I've been noticing where they really come from. And what they really do.

Take a walk in pretty much any park.

Watch out for crunchy dirt on the path
I suspect it's beetle poo, but don't know

And look up
You'll see them flying about

And then notice them in the tree

They literally shred the leaves, especially the newer growth
But be sure to keep an eye out for some other native friends at the same time. Birds are still more exciting than beetles, despite my deep and abiding passion for Christmas Beetles. 

Blue faced honeyeater
(Entomyzon cyanotis)

I've yet to see any birds feeding on Christmas Beetles, but something must eat them. Ah, it seems at least Crimson Rosellas do!

Merry Christmas.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy

Friday 27 December 2013

Billionaire Boy

I'm so glad that I picked up Billionaire Boy one day recently on a whim. Sometimes you need a little morsel to read between other books. Something light, cheery and funny. I picked up Billionaire Boy hoping it would be all those things. It certainly was. And more, much more.

I read David Walliams' first book, The Boy in the Dress, a few months ago, and quite liked it.  Even though each of Walliams' six books are a separate story, I'm OCD enough that I was planning on reading them in sequence, to see his progression as a writer. But I didn't have access to his second book, Mr Stink, today. Billionaire Boy is his third book. And I absolutely loved it, despite reading it out of sequence.

There are many similar elements to The Boy in the Dress actually. More toilet paper, more mean teachers with silly names, more loneliness, more bullies and schoolyard trials. Joe Spud is a 12 year old boy whose father has made his fortune in double sided toilet paper, which of course leads the way to much toilet paper and bum humour. Some of it is actually pretty funny.

But Joe is a lonely boy. He's quite fat and rather miserable at St Cuthbert's School for Boys, the most expensive school in England. He is teased and taunted because of his father's new money.

Most of the boys at Joe's school were Princes, or at least Dukes or Earls. Their families had made their fortunes from owning lots of land. That made them 'old money'. Joe had come to learn that money was only worth having if it was old. New money from selling loo rolls didn't count. 

There are marvellous lists scattered throughout Billionaire Boy. Joe's school timetable at St Cuthbert's, which runs over several pages, has some marvellous jokes for the adults.

Competition to see who is best friends with Prince Harry
History of wearing corduroy
A lecture on how to talk loudly in restaurants

There are some very Dahl-esque swear words (Walliams has been proclaimed as the successor to Dahl). Perhaps some of  the most comical moments come from Mrs Trafe, the school lunch lady, and her rather abominable menu. Badger and onion pie, dandruff risotto, or deep fried Blu-tack for the vegetarians. Wonderful gross humour for the prepubescent set. Perhaps David Walliams supports Jamie Oliver's work on school lunches? Perhaps it's just a great source of humour and grossness?

Billionaire Boy is a marvellous book. Funny. Gross. But with an important heart. David Walliams is teaching us that money can't buy us love, or indeed happiness. I think that Walliams doesn't quite have some of the malevolence of Dahl, but he certainly is a worthy successor. Quentin Blake illustrated David Walliams first two books, Tony Ross takes up the job with Billionaire Boy. The illustrations are marvellous, and the graphs of purple bottoms are outstanding. I'll be reading more David Walliams, soon.

April 2019 update: I've just listened to the audiobook of Billionaire Boy as preparation for seeing the stage show shortly. I was a bit anxious about revisiting this, still my favourite Walliams book. Would I still love it? Yep. I sure did. David Walliams does the narration and makes use of all his wonderful voices and characters. 

I had forgotten a lot of the later plot action, but remembered the first third of the book quite well. I laughed out loud many times. 

Thursday 26 December 2013

The Tomorrow Book

I read The Tomorrow Book to celebrate last months big, big news that Jackie French will be Australia's next Children's Laureate. Actually I'd already borrowed it from the library before I news came through, as it's always tempting when I see a new Jackie French book on the shelf. Her output is truly vast, and I'd not seen this one before, but even I can manage to sneak in reading another new picture book.

The Tomorrow Book is fantastic! A wonderful book full of hope, passion and zest for life- just like Jackie French.

A little prince loves books. Being a prince he has lots of books, and is a big reader.

But our little prince is an optimist.

He helps out the other kids with their problems, in cool, imaginative, environmentally friendly ways.

There is a strong environmental theme to The Tomorrow Book, but it manages to be fun without being preachy. Jackie French wrote a fabulous Author's Note at the end of the book. It's inspiring.

Our streets, schools and parks could be filled with fruit for anyone to pick, and also be used for markets where neighbours could swap produce and things they no longer need. Our tall buildings could have wildlife sanctuaries on their rooftops, and birds nesting in the vines growing on their walls. Every house could 'condense' moisture from the air to be used to cool or warm the house, as well as for chooks and veggies in the backyard. 

Sue Degennaro's Illustrators Note is fascinating too. I wish picture books always included a note about how the illustrations were made, or their inspiration.

The illustrations in this book were all created from recycled materials. I limited myself to paper found only within the confines of my house. Each image is made up of a collection of packaging found in my kitchen cupboards, such as tea bags, flour packets and match-boxes. I've also used traces of envelopes from mail delivered to my house. Other pieces of paper I collected years ago and have held onto, along with stray cards from a playing deck. 

AWWC 2013

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a great weekly meme from the folks at The Broke and the Bookish. I've been a rather infrequent Top Tenner for some time. Most of the time I don't have time to participate, but occasionally I manage to check out the schedule before hand and get myself organised. This makes two weeks in a row!

I'm trying to tone down the book acquisitions, mainly due to the overflowing bookshelves filled with books that I haven't read yet. Still there are so many new books all the time that I want to read. I often give away books now once I've read to help this process- to the local library, local schools, or Lifeline for their fund-raising book fairs. 

Still I would be very happy to unwrap any of these gems.

I haven't read John Green yet.
I must fix that.
I've heard so much about this one.
I can never get through really thick doorstoppers
read from the library in time.
I'm too slow a reader, but I know it would sit
on the shelf a long time before I can get to it.
Another doorstopper.
I loved The Secret History so much.
I'm intrigued by this one. 
Although I haven't read The Casual Vacancy yet

Walliams is a genius, I want to read them all.
I will read them all. 

Rainbow Rowell was everywhere on
last weeks Top Ten New Authors lists

I've heard so many good things about this one
It sounds intriguing.
My Paris shelf definitely needs this one

There's always more to know about Paris

I do have to get better at reading books that were presents. I don't always get them read, and so Mr Wicker is reluctant to buy me books. I have to fix that. 

Merry Christmas to you. I hope it is filled with great books. And great bubbles.

26/12/13 Santa Update: Santa came through and brought The Fault in Our Stars and Burial Rites. And some mighty fine bubbles!

Monday 23 December 2013


Souvenirs of a visit to Paris are their own special delight. My favourite souvenirs, are generally unexpected, and sometimes very ordinary objects. Like a trivet or a pair of nail scissors. This time a bottle of perfume took me unawares, and I had to buy it. This is not to say that a bottle of perfume was the only souvenir of my last trip, there were more of course, this is merely the first I've mentioned here, besides the multitudes of memories and photos.

In June this year I was attracted by all the pretty glass fish in the windows of the Lalique store in the Caroussel du Louvre (the shopping mall under the Louvre).

Naturally I was drawn into the store like a moth to the flame. Only to find that Lalique make perfume too. And I fell rapidly and fully in love with Satine. It was the day before my birthday, it just had to be done.

Satine is classified as an Oriental Woody perfume. Top notes of jasmine petals, heliotrope and gardenia.  Heart notes of pink pepper, vanilla bean and tonka bean. Dry down notes (I've got no idea what that means) patchouli, vetiver, sandalwood. Such a shame that we can't scratch and sniff with our screens.

My sister liked it so much that she bought a bottle too.

Satine is more than a perfume though, it is a philosophy.

Every time I see the bottle in my bathroom I think of all of this, and more, even before I spray it on. I don't wear perfume every day, or even every week, but Satine is my favourite at the moment, and makes me very happy. 

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog

Saturday 21 December 2013

The Birds of Adelaide

As always I was keen to see some birds on my recent trip to Adelaide. Some were easy to find, others remained elusive.

Swans (Cygnus atratus) were easy,
they're everywhere down near the river. 

Dusky Moorhens (Gallinula tenebrosa) were easy too.
They had their chicks with them this day. 

There was a bit of aggro between the swans and the moorhens.
I wasn't quite sure why. 

It took me a while to realise that these two were something different.
A new species for me!

Black-tailed Native-hens.
(Tribonyx ventralis)

Australasian Darter
(Anhinga novaehollandiae)

Little Black Cormorant
(Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)
I was very keen to find a musk lorikeet as it would have been another new species for me. While I found a lot of lorikeets, they were all rainbow lorikeets. Funny thing is a few days after I got home I saw musk lorikeets here- when I never had before!

Rainbow Lorikeet
(Trichoglossus haematodus)
Similarly, I was keen to find Adelaide Rosellas. And of course I only found the already familiar Eastern Rosellas.

Eastern Rosellas
(Platycercus eximius)

There were lots of ducklings everywhere

Hardhead duck
(Aythya australis)

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy