Tuesday 30 October 2018

My Year (So Far) in Nonfiction

Nonfiction November is about to take over the world again. Here in the blog world it is hosted by Doing Dewey, Julz Reads, Sarah's Bookshelves, Sophisticated Dorkiness and What's Nonfiction?

I watch a lot of Booktube too now and Nonfiction November is on over there this month hosted by A Book Olive and Non Fic Books.

It's fair to say that I'm having a pretty bad reading year. I've only read 49 books so far this year. I didn't really read anything over the past three or four months. I'm starting to work my way out of this Great Reading Slump of 2018 it seems, but it's still slow going. 

Checking my Goodreads tally I see that I've read 14 nonfiction books so far this year. I've also had a slow blogging year so I haven't blogged most of these books, and it seems I haven't rated them on Goodreads either. 

I've really enjoyed most of those 14 Nonfiction books. 

Week 1 Your Year in Nonfiction hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness (one of my favourite blog names ever)

What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year (so far)?

I think it would actually be my most recent nonfiction read, The Art of Living Alone & Loving It (see my review). 

I also really enjoyed The Art of Frugal Hedonism (see my review). Oh they're both The Art of ...

And this one is just fun, but rather fascinating. I love junior nonfiction.

I'm almost finished up with the audiobook of Leigh Sales' Any Ordinary Day, which is fabulous and will get a high rating from me. So much to think about in this one. 

I'm more than happy that three of those four books are Australian. And by Australian Women Writers too. 

Do you have a particular topic you've been more attracted to this year?

I've been reading around my tag of Reconsidering My Life and a lot of my reads have touched on that in various ways. Books about ways of living, and also financial matters. 

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Probably The Trauma Cleaner (see my review). It has a lot broader appeal than my three favourites above. And it's Australian too!

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

A few things. This is my second year participating in Nonfiction November, but I really only dabbled my toes in the waters last year. This year I'm hoping it will spur me on to read some of the nonfiction waiting for me on my shelves. I've got a few on the go at the moment that I'd like to get finished too. I also want to blog about some of the books that I've already read this year. Of course I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else reads, and finding lots of interesting new books and blogs. 

Sunday 28 October 2018

Les Misérables - catching up May to June, in October

For some unaccountable reason I put Les Mis aside back in May, and didn't pick it up again until very recently. I really can't explain why. I have been in quite a reading slump this year, and for some time I haven't been "reading" as such, but predominantly listening to audiobooks. I've enjoyed these immensely but still couldn't find an urge to actually read. Anything. Even Les Mis. Then the October Dewey's Readathon was coming up and I knew that if I didn't somehow pick up Les Mis again that weekend I wouldn't finish it this year, and maybe I would never finish it at all. Ever. And I really want to finish it. 

I had been stalled at the start of V2B8C2 Fauchelevent Faces Difficulty. So I went back to the start of Book 8 and got reading. And what do you know? I loved it all over again. I read 53 pages of Les Mis in that 24 hours, not that much in reality, but still significant progress when I had made absolutely none since May and so I was happy. Since the readathon I've read another 88 pages and have now caught up to where I should have been on June 30. Yes, I'm  finally halfway through!

Here I'll post some musings from V2B8C1 toV3B4C6. Which covers quite a bit of territory. 

V2B8 has Jean Valjean and Cosette inside the convent but needing to get out so they can return legitimately through the front door. Much hilarity ensues in the cemetery with drunk gravediggers, and a close call for Jean Valjean. 
It is frightening to see a dead body, it is almost as frightening to see a resurrection. 
V2B8C10 Cloistered features a lengthy section, three pages of Hugo brilliance comparing the lives of prisoners and nuns. "Now, after the prison hulks, he saw the cloister."
These human beings, too, lived with their heads shorn, their eyes downcast, their voices lowered, not in disgrace but amid the world's jeering, not with their backs bruised by the rod but with their shoulders lacerated by self-mortification. Their names, too, had died among men. They now existed only under an austere nomenclature. They never ate meat and they never drank wine. They often went without food until evening. They were dressed not in red tunics but in black woollen shrouds, heavy in summer, light in winter, unable to take anything off or to put on anything extra, without even the possibility, according to season, of thinner clothing or a woollen overcoat. 
Two places of slavery, but in the first, the possibility of being freed, a legal term always in sight, and even escape; in the second place a life sentence to be served, the only hope in the far distant future that glimmer of freedom men call death. 
In the first the enslaved were fettered only by chains, in the other they were fettered by their faith.  
I'm so thrilled to get to Book 3 Marius. As A) I've finally made it out of Book 2 after being stalled there for so many months and into Book 3. And B) I get to learn much more about Marius (and Gavroche it seems). A lot of this detail and plot line doesn't make it into the movie and stage versions, so I'm not familiar with it. Firstly we meet Marius' grandfather, and then his father, and discover the terrible relationship forced on them by Monsieur Gillenormand. 
Twice a year, on the first of January and on St George's Day, Marius wrote dutiful letters to his father, dictated by his aunt, that read as if they had been copied from some primer. This was all that Monsieur Gillenormand would allow. And the father replied with very loving letters that the grandfather stuffed into his pocket unread. 
Of course Marius discovers the truth, but all too late, just after his father has died. This leads to an undoing of a relationship between Grandfather and Grandson, not so coincidentally the name of Volume 3 Book 3. Marius is thrown out of the house, never to be spoken of again. Although Monsieur Gillenormand tells his daughter to send Marius six hundred francs every six months, so he is not quite cast adrift financially. 

I particularly enjoyed V3B4C1 A Group That Came Close to Becoming Historic. Here we are formally introduced to Marius' friends. Enjolras. Combeferre. Jean Prouvaire. Feuilly. Courfeyrac. Bahorel. Lesgle (Bossuet). Joly. Grantaire. Of these the only names that I have picked up from the stage shows and movie are Enjolras and Combeferre, but I certainly don't have any significant understanding of either. We are treated to more lovely imagery from Hugo. 
Enjolras was a leader, Combeferre was a guide. You would have wanted to fight with one and march with the other. It is not that Combeferre was not capable of fighting. He not unwilling to grapple with any obstacle and tackle it by direct force and explosive power. But making the human race gradually conform to its destiny through the teaching of basic principles and the implementation of practical laws was more to his liking. And between the two types of brightness he was inclined to favour illumination over conflagration. A fire can certainly create a glow, but why not wait for daybreak? A volcano gives light, but dawn gives even better light. 
I do wish that I could grasp even 1/5 of his references. Historical, classical, any of it. How much it would add to my reading. 
There are men who seemingly are born to be the verso, the inverse, the reverse. They are Pollux, Patroclus, Nisus, Eudamidas, Hephaestion, Pechméja.
How much better informed, read and educated the 19th century French reader must have been. Early on, before I stalled in May, I was looking up each and every unknown name or reference in the Notes at the back. Now I need to read quicker, to try and catch up so am skimming over these clues laid for the reader by Victor Hugo. 

V3B4C4 The Back Room of Café Musain contains the drunken ramblings of Grantaire. I was fascinated to learn that "Charles II knighted a Sir Loin". Sirloin. Really? Although it seems that this has been attributed to most British monarchs at some stage or other. And of course any brief mention of Charles II brings me back such happy memories. 

And now I've really made it to June 30! I'm halfway!!! Onward and upward into July.

I tweeted a few quotes back during readathon. And now I've worked out how to put a tweet in a post! It's a technological breakthrough for me.


Tuesday 23 October 2018

Life after Life

I've known of Kate Atkinson for quite some time, generally hearing good things, and I've been meaning to read her for ages, so when I saw Life after Life on BorrowBox I knew it was finally time. And I'm so glad that I did. Now of course I can't believe that I've left it so long. At least she has an amazing back catalogue all ready for me to explore.

The structure of Life After Life is fascinating. Nowhere near linear. Not like anything you've ever read before. So complex. But a necessity I guess given the premise of the story. A premise so complex it needs an About the Book before beginning. 
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
A kind of sliding doors concept I guess. A small change makes a huge impacts, and literally changes lives. It starts with a bang (literally) with a grown-up Ursula Todd shooting Hitler! Then we go back to the Todd family home, Fox Corner, on a snowy night in February 1910 where Ursula is born. Ursula is the middle child of five born to Sylvie and Hugh Todd.

 Ursula is born (repeatedly) on February 11 1910.
Jimmy's arrival had the effect of making Ursula feel as if she was being pushed further away from he heart of the family, like an object at the edge of an overcrowded table. A cuckoo, she had overheard Sylvie say to Hugh. Ursula's a bit of an awkward cuckoo. But how could you be a cuckoo in your own nest?
There is just so much in this book. The fox motif, the English class structure, the roles of women over time-within the family, within the workforce. The broad sweep of the narrative covers the major events of the early twentieth century - WWI, WWII, the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19, with a few chapters set in the 1960s.

I particularly liked the chapters covering WWII- the London Blitz comes alive in Kate Atkinson's prose. It's incredible. Everyone knows that the Blitz was awful of course, but I had never really thought about how awful it was to live through the seemingly endless German bombing raids, night after night. The enforced practicalities of that life. The horrors of that life. 

The physical book has an Author Note at the end where she called The Blitz the "dark, beating heart of the novel", but she feels that it isn't all about the war, and if she was to be pressed to say what it is actually about, then she would say that Life After Life is about being English. 

The storyline and the sections set in Germany didn't work so well for me. I found them far fetched! Which is a stretch given I'm quite happy to accept the initial premise of the book, and all the toing and froing in time. Indeed I enjoyed all that, it is frightfully clever. But that is really a relatively minor quibble. I did love Kate Atkinson's writing, her clever turns of phrase, her humour, are just my kind of thing. 
Pamela's support for the expeditionary force had taken the form of a mass production of dun-coloured mufflers of extraordinary and impractical lengths. Sylvie was pleasantly surprised by her elder daughter's capacity for monotony. It would stand her in good stead for her life to come. 
I'm really not sure what to make of the book as a whole. What am I to believe now? Did Ursula get it right in the end? I'm really not quite sure what to make of the ending. Life After Life would certainly reward a re-read, or a re-listen in this case. 
She had been here before. She had never been here before. 
I especially loved the narration by Fenella Woolgar, she has such a delightful, plummy English accent, so perfect for the story, and does wonderful regional and international accents and voices for the many different characters. It's such a shame that she doesn't do A God in Ruins (a companion novel to Life after Life), but I guess that book is Teddy's story (Ursula's younger brother) so it makes more sense to have a male voice. Although I see that Fenella Woolgar does narrate Kate Atkinson's current book Transcription, so I might need to have a listen to that one too. 

Sunday 21 October 2018

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon The Fifth

I can't believe that this is already my 5th Dewey's Readathon.!

It's an 11pm start time for us in Australia in Spring. So it's quite a day of waiting around, just waiting to start. I filled in my time today going to a Lifeline Book Sale. Naturally, I bought quite a bag of books. I haven't really planned a TBR this time round. But I decided to kickstart my Readathon this time with one of the books I bought today. A book of short stories. 

I even started a little early as I'd waited long enough. 

I'm very keen to use this Readathon to get back into my #LesMisReadalong. Rather shamefully somehow back in May I put my copy of Les Mis down one day and didn't pick it back up again til today. I have no idea why. I was really enjoying it. I have been in quite a reading slump this year though. I'm not so much reading as listening at the moment as the vast majority of my book intake has been via audiobooks for the last few months. 

But I've done it. I've just reread the last chapter I read in May. V2B8C1. And now onwards... It's such a shame it's after midnight. 

Sunday 1230

I had a nice long sleep and a Sunday morning sleep in, then out to brunch with friends. It's such a gorgeous  spring day here, and we enjoyed a short stroll in the gardens after. Just so that I haven't completely wasted readathon time I was listening to an audiobook while I was out (although I live in a small town, and it literally took me about 4 minutes to drive to brunch), I did finish off 20 minutes of Chapter 1 when I got home. It's fascinating. Highly recommended.

Sunday 1800 (Hour 20)

I've had a lovely restful day, even if I haven't made as much progress as I would've liked (and when is that ever the case?)

1 nap
7 hours sleep
30 minutes Any Ordinary Day
45 pages Living Alone and Loving It
53 pages Les Mis
57 pages Beneath the Earth

Sunday 2300 (in reality Monday morning, after midnight)

So I managed to fall asleep sometime after 10, and long before 11. I could count the number of times this happens per year on one hand, and of course it happened tonight. So my planned gallop to the end with a third short story was a bit of a wipe out. 

My final tally

2 naps
7 hours sleep
67 minutes Any Ordinary Day
77 pages Les Mis
80 pages Beneath the Earth
83 pages Living Alone and Loving It

A total of 240 pages. Which is not what I had hoped to read, but better than nothing. And much better than I would have done without a readathon this weekend, my reading has definitely been slumped for some time now. Months. 

I'm very glad to have picked up Les Mis again, and am now only 4 months behind, and not 5. Still it does give me some chance of catching up again so as to be able to finish it. I'm 549 pages in, much longer than any other book I've read this year. It's rare for me to pick up a book longer than 500 pages. Actually, 400 pages makes me nervous...

Friday 12 October 2018

The Art of Frugal Hedonism

I plucked this book off the library shelves a few months ago when I was cruising (somewhat uncharacteristically) in the Business section! I'd never heard of The Art of Frugal Hedonism, but was captivated by the title and cover. I shoved it in a pile of other books and brought it home. I've borrowed it several times since that day. And read it cover to cover. 

I started reading it one day when at a bit of a loose end, and was immediately pulled in right from the Foreward by Clive Hamilton. It's all really well written as well as being interesting. It's fun and funny, and not at all stodgy.

Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb really know their subject as the book was born out of their beliefs and experiences. In 2016 they were living on $105 each per week (including bills, but excluding rent/mortgage payments) compared to the Australian average of $440 (artificially low because it is including adults and children alike). The Art of Frugal Hedonism is a manifesto of sorts of how to value-add your life without actually paying for it. It teaches us that if we consume less, we have don't have to earn as much to live the same life, we can work less and live more- and it's better for the environment.  
As we grew older, dear reader, your authors noticed that a lot of people in our unbelievably affluent society were struggling to thoroughly enjoy life, despite having it so good. 
The book is 51 chapters full of anecdotes, tips and advice on how to live this life, but with an added dash of philosophy. I particularly enjoyed a new 3 Rs. Relish, Recalibrate and Revel in Resourcefulness. Chapter 2 is simply called Relish, and it advises us to use our own nerve endings to our advantage. They offer rather unconventional advice such as
Stroke your dog's ear between thumb and forefinger and marvel at its silkiness. Snuggle into your bed on a cold night and actually grin about how good it is... Enjoy the rocking movement of a train... Call it mindfulness, call it living in the moment, call it relishing- it's recommended by psychiatrists, hedonists, Buddhist monks and cheapskates alike. 
Stroking my dogs ears has long been one of my favourite activities. It's glorious. And obviously free (well apart from the dog food and vet bills). 

Chapter 6, Recalibrate your Senses suggests a way for us to really appreciate what can be everyday treats for us. 
The basic blueprint for modern first-world living is normalised hyper-abundance and hyper-stimulation, punctuated by desperate attempt at escape when the fallout becomes too distressing. These attempts usually take the form of bouts of restraint (like diets), or of collapse (like illness, or 'lie-by-a-pool-for-two-weeks-getting-drunk' holidays). Frugal Hedonism inverts this pattern by normalising an elegant sufficiency of consumption, and then artfully dotting it with intensely relished abundance.
They point out how good a cold beer tastes after a sweaty day of working in the garden with a friend. How good a hot shower feels after a week or camping (I do know how that feels but fervently hope never to experience it again, I can Relish my daily shower without having to Recalibrate by camping).

Reveling in Resourcefulness, Chapter 17, reminds us how good it feels to problem solve, to fix something that otherwise may be no longer used, or thrown out. I've taken up mending things this year, which does not seem all that big a deal I suppose, but I was so proud of my efforts mending a hole in my flanelette sheet that I took pictures and sent it to friends! Those sheets have lasted out the winter just fine (and indeed are still on the bed, winter isn't quite finished where I live), and I didn't need to buy new sheets this winter. And it seriously was rather quick. Previously I would have consigned them to dog blankets long ago. 
Everyday life used to provide people with ample opportunity to experience the satisfaction of being canny, constructive, and creative to achieve an end via the constant necessity of making things and repairing or repurposing them. Apparently, this feeling is so pleasurable that as those necessary activities which supplied it dwindled, we have invented leisure activities to supply it in their place- cutting up brand new fabric to use for recreational quilting, finding 'shed' projects to tinker on, building model aeroplanes, doing puzzles, gaming. 

Perhaps I would rename Chapter 20- Indulge Your Curiosity, to Remain Curious, to fit with my R theme. I've already recognised the need to remain curious as an important principal in my own life. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it certainly brings great joy to humans. Annie and Adam suggest that knowledge can function in lieu of material goods, and that it is "deep hedonism".
As your understandings amass, you begin to sense the world around you as a dense and majestic cathedral of thrumming, interconnected functions and stories. 
I loved this book so much, I suspect that I'll buy my own copy at some stage. And I'll definitely be searching out their other book The Weed Forager's Handbook and most definitely try to do an Edible Weed Walk on my next visit to Melbourne.

If I'd been paying attention I would have noticed Lisa's review at ANZLitLovers last year.

Or heard the RN Lifematters interview with Annie Raser-Rowland.

I'm not exactly sure if this book qualifies for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, as the second author is a man, but will list it anyway as I'm sure more people would love it too. And I hope they will tell me if it doesn't. Actually I'll ask on twitter. 


Monday 1 October 2018

Midwinter Break

I didn't think that I'd heard of Bernard MacLaverty before Midwinter Break, his most recent book, but I see now that I have heard of (but of course not read) one of his previous titles- Grace Notes. I saw people talking about Midwinter Break on Booktube earlier this year I think. Something about it really appealed and when I saw the audiobook in my BorrowBox I was soon downloading it. 

Gerry and Stella are an older Northern Irish couple living in Scotland. Gerry, is a retired architect, Stella a retired teacher. Gerry is slipping further and further into alcoholism and the hold that whiskey has over him, while Stella has a deepening faith. Stella's faith has always been strong, whilst Gerry has long been a non-believer. Stella organises a short holiday in Amsterdam for them as a midwinter break. Unbeknownst to Gerry she has an ulterior motive for selecting Amsterdam as their destination. 

The whole story is told over just the three or four days of their trip to Amsterdam. It is often incredibly detailed. But it tells the story of their marriage, how they met, some of the trials they have weathered during their marriage. I can't remember ever reading a book by a Northern Irish writer, but certainly the themes of poor upbringings, Catholicism and alcohol are familiar from other Irish reads. I appreciated the nuanced details like the shape of the head on a Guinness when it has been poured, and before it has been sipped. 

I really enjoyed this beguilingly simple tale of a marriage at a crossroads. And I enjoyed Amsterdam as a setting. One of my friends was there as I was listening, and I visited Amsterdam myself in 2013. I've been to Anne Frank House, and to the Rijksmuseum, both destinations for Stella and Garry on their trip. Although I don't know that I saw any of the same paintings at the Rijksmuseum. It is a big place I guess. I certainly don't remember The Jewish Bride. 

The Jewish Bride
I'm really glad that this is no longer thought to be
a father bestowing a necklace on his daughter...

I listened to the audio version and definitely liked the narration of Stephen Hogan, his delightful Irish accent was perfect for the story. Sometimes the time slips weren't terribly obvious and I would need to double back to check what was happening, and when. Lots of audiobooks do this, which is most frustrating- they really need to add a brief pause, that would be indicated in the printed book by formatting or a slight gap.