Friday 30 June 2017

The Hidden Life of Trees

From the time Tim Flannery made my jaw drop moments into the Foreward  I was totally in love with this audiobook.

If a giraffe starts eating an African acacia, the tree releases a chemical a chemical into the air that signals a threat is at hand. As the chemical drifts through the air and reaches other trees, they "smell" it and are warned of the danger. Even before the giraffe reaches them, they begin producing toxic chemicals. 

Wait. What? Trees can sense that a giraffe is eating them and respond to it? Wow. And trees can talk to each other to warn their neighbours of pesky giraffes?? Perhaps I'm just completely ignorant but my mind was well and truly blown.

Trees are with us every day, but their apparent motionless state blinds their lives from us, they are hidden in plain sight. 

Peter Wohlleben really opened my eyes to these seemingly silent sentinels of our world. Trees live on a different, much slower time scale compared to us, our human lives so much shorter then their lives played out over centuries when living in a forest. And so we don't see them as the social beings they are. Peter explains how trees feel pain, how they communicate, and how they nurture and support each other. It not only takes a village, it also takes a forest. Trees in a forest will support the sick and dying, and even nourish "dead" tree stumps. Peter anthropomorphises trees and talks of families, relatives and friendships. It was all a complete paradigm shift for me, and with every new chapter another new shift came.

Even the things I thought I knew about trees (but hadn't thought about in decades) were wrong. Like most people I was taught in biology at high school and uni that water moves in trees by a combination of capillary action and transpiration. Peter takes just a few moments to explain that neither of these forces are anywhere near adequate to explain the movement of water up a tree. You know what? We don't even know. We don't know how water moves up a tree! Science, technology and medicine have made our lives comfortable and healthy on the whole, we have explored the far reaches of our planet, and our own moon, but we still don't know how water moves up a tree. It's almost unbelievable. 

I had never even really given much thought to the fact that trees are green. I know well enough that trees have chlorophyll to absorb light and that white light splits to give us a rainbow of colour. So Peter asks us why aren't trees black?

Chlorophyll helps leaves process light. If trees processed light super-efficiently, there would be hardly any left over- and the forest would then look as dark during the day as it does at night. Chlorophyll, however has one disadvantage. It has a so-called green gap, and because it cannot use this part of the colour spectrum, it has to reflect it back unused. This weak spot means that we can see this photosynthetic leftover, and that's why almost all plants look deep green to us. Beautiful for us; useless for the trees. 
Even more amazingly some trees have red leaves because of a metabolic disorder. 

Young developing leaves on normal trees are often tinged red thanks to a kind of sun block in their delicate tissue. This is anthocyanin, which blocks ultraviolet rays to protect the little leaves. As the leaves grow, the anthocyanin is broken down by the help of an enzyme. A few beeches or maples deviate from the norm because they lack this enzyme. 

There is just so much in this book, not all of it about trees. Trees have very close codependent relationships with fungi (fungi can take up to a third of a trees food production), and they are in a life and death struggle against the fungi for their entire lives too, so there's quite a bit about fungi in the book Fungi form the largest lifeforms on earth! Of course other creatures are mentioned too- the birds and insects that live in the trees, the many and varied life forms that feed off trees when they are alive and when they are dead.

It's almost too much to take in. So, as I often do, I listened twice through, and then borrowed the book from the library to see if I had missed out on any visual content. The book is illustrated with a few simple, yet beautiful, drawings by Briana Garelli

Peter Wohlleben is German and manages a forest in Germany, so naturally his specific knowledge is about the trees and forests of Europe. I'm not so familiar with European trees, yes I can recognise an oak tree, or a spruce, but I don't know many of the trees he talked about all that well. I would love to hear a similar book about our Australian native trees.

The translation by Jane Billinghurst (a writer and gardner herself) is absolutely beautiful, the book reads like an English language text, not at all like a translation from the German.

Highly recommended. 

Thursday 29 June 2017

The 10 Most Challenged Books of 2016

If you tell me I can't read a book, or shouldn't read a book then I immediately want to read it. So here we are, the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2016 (in American schools and libraries, we don't tend to challenge or ban books so much here).

1. This One Summer - Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (illustrator)

2. Drama - Raina Telgemeier (see my review)

3. George - Alex Gino

4. I am Jazz - Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, Shelagh McNicholas (illustrator)

5. Two Boys Kissing - David Levithan

6. Looking for Alaska - John Green

7. Big Hard Sex Criminals - Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky (illustrator)

8. Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread - Chuck Palahniuk

9. Little Bill series - Bill Cosby, Varnette P. Honeywood (illustrator)

10. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell


So it's pretty easy to see what upsets the Americans who feel the need to challenge books. The top five were challenged because of LGBTQI+ themes. Three more were challenged because of more general sexual explicitness, one because Bill Cosby wrote it and Number 10 because it had offensive language.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

I think I've heard of this book before. But I'm not really quite sure where. Maybe one of my friends on Goodreads at some stage, but I've recently been watching quite a bit of Booktube- a little corner of Youtube where people blog about the books they read, the books they love, the books they buy- it's very entertaining, but not good at all for cutting down on your TBR, or getting much reading done to be honest.

One of my favourite book tubers that I've discovered recently is Russell from Ink and Paper Blog. I've gone back and watched most of his videos, which isn't as difficult as it sounds as Russell is relatively new to Booktube. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? featured in a video from March 11 2017 Meeting Baxter & 5 Books I Think You Should Know About! and it prompted me to get the book from my library and pick it up. I'm so glad that I did because I really loved it.

Roz Chast is an American cartoonist, and staff cartoonist at The New Yorker. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a graphic memoir largely dealing with her parents in the later stages of their lives. Roz grew up in Brooklyn, an only child, her parents born in America of Russian Jewish emigres. Her mother was a force of nature, an assistant principal in an elementary school, her father, an anxious man had been a high school language teacher who spoke five languages.

My father chain-worried the way others might chain-smoke. He never learned to drive, swim, ride a bicycle, or change a lightbulb. 
My mother was  a different thing. She was a perfectionist who saw things in black and white. Where my father was tentative and gentle, she was critical and uncompromising. 

Roz had a somewhat protected, cosseted childhood, and felt closer to her father than her mother.

Naturally of course her parents begin to age, to need help to stay in their own home, to have falls. Of course, as with many older people they are fiercely independent, and want to stay in their own home no matter what. 

More so her parents don't want to openly discuss their situation, their aging, and their inevitable final illnesses and death.

I don't think I've ever mentioned my day job here before, but it is one that involves end of life discussions on a very regular, and at times daily basis. These are such important discussions for any family to have, and can ease the way both for the older person and for other family members who will be left behind. It is so important for everyone to be on the same page, and have realistic expectations of what is to come. 

I particularly enjoyed Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Both in terms of the subject matter, Roz's family, her parents, their personalities and relationships, their progressive decline and also the actual book- the graphic memoir style, the look and feel of the artwork, but also the prose sections, the photos, the language and the humour. It's wonderful. I'm so glad Russell recommended it. 

Sunday 25 June 2017

Good Me, Bad Me

It must be said that I do really like a bit of genre fiction from time to time, particularly a thriller. Way back when I had quite a fondness for Patricia Cornwell and Ian Rankin. But I hadn't read any for a while, since I read The Girl on the Train (see my review) in 2015- yes two years ago. I could have sworn that was last year, but it seems not.

I had heard a little bit of hype about Good Me, Bad Me when it was released a few months ago, but didn't know too much about it. I did pick it up whilst browsing in a bookstore one day, intrigued by the back cover blurb:
Annie's mother is a serial killer. 
That's a rather unusual perspective, I'm pretty sure that I've never read a first person narrative by the daughter of a serial killer before. I was also drawn in by the fact that debut author Ali Land worked as a Mental Health Nurse in the UK and Australia for ten years before becoming a writer. Naturally I noticed the dedication too. 

To mental health nurses everywhere. The true rock stars.
This book is for you.
We start the book knowing that fifteen year old Annie is informing the police that her mother is a serial killer, and has been murdering young children in her own house for many years. Obviously, her mother is then put in jail awaiting trial, and Annie is moved to London, to a new family. She is given a new name, Milly, to protect her identity, and goes to a new school with her foster sister Phoebe. Fifteen year old girls don't always get along, and Milly and Phoebe have more than their share of troubles. 

Her foster father Mike is a psychologist helping Milly to prepare for her mother's trial, and much of the story takes place over this time. A first person narrative is one of my favourite novel styles, but I was never fully drawn in by Annie/Milly's voice. Obviously Annie has had a difficult childhood, so perhaps her rather unusual personality was part of that difficulty for me. But the sentence fragments were a bit much at times too. 

Wobbles, threatens to come toppling down. A deck of cards, carefully, painstakingly, arranged in a pyramid. Fragile family. 
It's not all written like that, but there was enough that I noticed it and found it distracting. I mostly enjoyed the book but never found it to be the compelling page turner I was hoping for. 

Thursday 22 June 2017

17 Aussie YA Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once

Aussie YA is an amazing place, and a fabulous #LoveOzYA movement has sprung up over the last few years. Danielle Binks, author and book blogger is leading the charge. She is editor of the recently released anthology Begin, End, Begin which naturally I have bought, but not read. Here she shares another great Buzzfeed list 17 Aussie YA Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once.

On the Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetti

Does My Head Look Big in This? - Randa Abdel-Fattah

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Laurinda - Alice Pung

Playing Beatie Bow - Ruth Park (see my review)

Dreaming of Amelia - Jaclyn Moriarty

Came Back to Show You I Could Fly - Robin Klein

Tomorrow, When the War Began - John Marsden

Obernewtyn - Isabelle Carmody

Sabriel - Garth Nix

Mandragora - David McRobbie

Graffiti Moon - Cath Crowley (see my review)

Surrender - Sonya Hartnett

Grace Beside Me - Sue McPherson

Illuminae - Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Summer Skin - Kirsty Eager

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories - Margo Lanagan

Hmm, a shameful 4/17.

It must be said that I have meant to read most of these books at some stage. Indeed I started Obernewtyn one time. I do love how a list always shows you a book you've never heard of, here it is Sue McPherson's Grace Beside Me, and I've only heard of Mandragora in the past month or so.

Sunday 18 June 2017

Tuck Everlasting

Reading a classic, a well-loved book for the first time can be a bit of an anxious time. Such a weight of expectations can burden the book, can it ever really live up to that? Happily sometimes it can, and so it was with my first read of Tuck Everlasting, which is one of those amazing books that will become part of the Books I Wish I Read as a Child, and Books I Know I Will Reread. 

Tuck Everlasting was published in 1975 and tells the story of ten year old Winifred Foster. Winnie lives a cosseted, restricted life, an only child guarded over by her parents, her grandmother and even her house. 
On the left stood the first house, a square and solid cottages with a touch-me-not appearance, surrounded by grass cut painfully to the quick and enclosed by a capable iron fence some four feet high which clearly said, "Move on- we don't want you here,".
Naturally, Winnie wants out of her yard, out of her closed-off life. She wants adventures and to make her mark in the world. 
"I'm not exactly sure what I'd do, you know, but something interesting- something that's all mine. Something that would make some kind of difference in the world. It'd be nice to have a new name, to start with, one that's not all worn out from being called so much."
Tuck Everlasting is beautifully written. Natalie Babbitt has a wonderful descriptive style, but with a deft lightness of touch. 
The sky was a ragged blaze of red and pink and orange, and its double trembled on the surface of the pond like color spilled from a paintbox. The sun was dropping fast now, a soft red sliding egg yolk, and already to the east there was a darkening to purple. Winnie, newly brave with her thoughts of being rescued, climbed boldly into the rowboat. The hard heels of her buttoned boots made a hollow banging sound against its wet boards, loud in the warm and breathless quiet. Across the pond a bullfrog spoke a deep note of warning. Tuck climbed in, too, pushing off, and, settling the oars into their locks, dipped them into the silty bottom in one strong pull. The rowboat slipped from the bank then, silently, and glided out, tall water grasses whispering away from its sides, releasing it. 
The book asks the question "What if you could live forever?". It is a powerful musing on life and death, the cycle of life, and its meaning, written in response to Natalie Babbitt's four year old daughter waking from a dream scared of dying. 
"But dying's part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can't pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest."
My only quibble with the book is that I think at ten Winnie is too young, in at least one movie version she is 15 which I think is more suitable for her crush on Jesse Tuck. The 2002 movie version also supplied what is supposedly the books most famous quote (although I can't remember it from the book, or find it).
You can't have living without dying. Don't be afraid of death, Winnie. Be afraid of the unlived life.
I read the 40th Anniversary edition which has a wonderful (spoiler free) foreword by Gregory Maguire where he writes of the joy of rereading Tuck Everlasting. 

Books can have more than one theme. That's one of the reasons to reread them. That is why I can reread Tuck Everlasting over and over, even though when I meet Winnie Foster again standing in her front yard, I know exactly what she will do later in the book. 
What I don't know is what it will mean to me now. For I grow older, year by year. Life and joy, sorrow and understanding, they all wash against me, changing me day by day, year by year. When I return to the same place on time's Ferris wheel that I remember from the year before, the place may seem the same but I have changed. I have to look again, to see what the author's views might suggest to me, what they mean now. 
I haven't been much of a rereader (there's too many books to read for the first time), but I do look forward to reading Tuck Everlasting again. It's a beautiful book, well deserving of classic status. I had such a book hangover after finishing it, I did contemplate getting the first reread over and done with straight away as I couldn't settle on reading anything else for a few days. 


Saturday 17 June 2017

Vivid Sydney at Taronga Zoo 2017

Vivid Sydney 2017 is finishing up tonight - it's an absolutely incredible festival. Whoever thought of illuminating Sydney in winter is genius. It's just so amazing. 

I hadn't been able to make it to Vivid for quite a few years, and it's grown in leaps and bounds since my last visit. I was thrilled to be able to join some friends to go to Vivid at the Zoo when I had a quick trip to Sydney recently. 

You entered Taronga under a beautiful green canopy.

There are amazing light sculptures all through Taronga Zoo. 

Some are huge. 

 Some are smaller.

All sorts of creatures. All are fabulous. 

I think the crocodile was one of my favourites. It was absolutely huge, and yet the same size as the largest salt water crocodile ever recorded!

Leaving the Zoo we watched the amazing projection on the Heritage Building. 

We caught the ferry back into the city after walking down Bradley's Head Road (FYI that's not safe in the dark, there's no footpath, and there's lots of buses).

But it was a great way to ease into Vivid in the city. Projections abound. On the bridge pylons. 

On the Opera House

and the Museum of Contemporary Art

Yes I do, but especially during Vivid.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Thursday 8 June 2017

100 Fiction Books to Read in a Lifetime

If only there was only 100 books we needed to read in a lifetime. This list of must reads is from Abe Books

1984 - George Orwell

The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
Lord of the Flies - William Golding (see my review)
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Watership Down - Richard Adams
A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
Americana - Chimamanda Negozi Adichie
The Vegetarian - Han Kang
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery 
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
Animal Farm - George Orwell
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Barney's Version - Mordecai Richler
The Beetle - Richard Marsh
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
The Book of Negroes - Lawrence Hill
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
The Giver - Lois Lowry (see my review)
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Anna Karennina - Leo Tolstoy
Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut
The Karamazov Brothers - Fyodor Dostoevsky
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
Charlotte's Web - E.B. White 
The Chrysalids - John Wyndham
City of Thieves - David Benioff
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky
Disgrace - J.M. Coetzee
Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes
Doomsday Book - Connie Willis
Dracula - Bram Stoker
The Fault in Our Stars - John Green (see my review)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
Gullivers Travels - Jonathan Swift
Ham on Rye - Charles Bukowski
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling
The Help - Kathryn Stockett
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien (see my review)
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (see my review)
If Tomorrow Comes - Sidney Sheldon
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
Kindred - Octavia E. Butler
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Les Misérables - Victor Hugo
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson

Life of Pi - Yann Martel
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Márquez
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
Maus - Art Spiegeln
Middlemarch - George Elliot
Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Ulysses - James Joyce
Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
Native Son - Richard Wright
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Road - Cormac McCarthy (see my review)
Romance of the Three Kingdoms - Luo Guanzhong
The Shining - Stephen King
Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut
The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
Three Day Road - Joseph Boyden
The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Trial - Franz Kafka
Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy 


Thursday 1 June 2017

Booklist's 50 Best YA Books of All Time

Just when I think I have some kind of handle on YA comes a list like this from the American Library Association. They say that YA began in 1967 with the publication of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders (and didn't that just leap to the top of my TBR?). This year is of course 50 years on from 1967 and so they are celebrating 50 Years of YA with a fabulous list. It's a very interesting list, and I'm particularly intrigued by the large number of books that I've never even heard of.


The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton (see my review)

The Earthsea Trilogy - Ursula K. Le Guin 1/3

The Pigman - Paul Zindel


The Friends - Rosa Guy

A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich - Alice Childress

I Know What You Did Last Summer - Lois Duncan

Forever - Judy Blume

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast - Robin McKinley

Gentlehands - M.E. Kerr


Homecoming - Cynthia Voigt

Annie on My Mind - Nancy Garden

Sweet Valley High series - Francine Pascal 181

Singularity - William Sleator

How's Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones

Fallen Angels - Walter Dean Myers

Dangerous Angels series - Francesca Lia Block


The Silver Kiss - Annette Curtis Klause

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes - Chris Crutcher

Toning the Sweep - Angela Johnson

The Lesser Blessed - Richard Van Camp

The Circuit books - Francisco Jiménez

The Facts Speak for Themselves - Brock Cole

Tenderness - Robert Cormier


Kit's Wilderness - David Almond

Miracle's Boys - Jacqueline Woodson

Hole in My Life - Jack Gantos

33 Snowfish - Adam Rapp

How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff (see my review)

Black Juice - Margo Lanagan

Looking for Alaska - John Green

American Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing series - M.T. Anderson

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie (see my review)

Boy Toy - Barry Lyga

The Chaos Walking trilogy - Patrick Ness

Little Brother - Cory Doctorow

Living Dead Girl - Elizabeth Scott

Nation - Terry Pratchett

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith - Deborah Heiligman

The Monstrumologist series - Rick Yancey 

Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson


They Called Themselves the K.K.K. : The Birth of an American Terrorist Group - Susan Campbell Bartoletti

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic - Allan Wolf

The Raven Cycle series - Maggie Stiefvater 

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

March series - John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (illustrator)

Midwinter blood - Marcus Sedgwick

A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War against Slavery - Albert Marrin

I Crawl Through It - A.S. King

Out of Darkness - Ashley Hope Pérex


Or actually 3 of about 200, given that there were 181 books in the Sweet Valley High series, all of which remain unread by me.

I can't really expect my tally to be much higher given that I hadn't actually ever heard of 32 of these books. Nor have I heard of many of the authors, some are very famous of course and I may have read other books just not the ones listed here. 

July 2017 4/50