Tuesday 30 April 2019

100 21st Century Novels to Love

It's been a while between Listmanias here but I was very inspired after coming across this list thanks to Eric Karl Anderson and his wonderful booktube channel. 

The Times created this list of favourite novels of the 21st century so far. Sadly it is behind a paywall (at least for those of us outside the UK, not sure if it the same for everyone). But Eric discussed all the books, so I can here too. I'm not sure if there was any particular reason for the order, but I've chosen to alphabetise it. 

As always there's a few books I've read. Many I've meant to read. Some I've bought. And quite a few where I've not heard of either the author or sometimes that particular book. 

A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (see my review)

All Families are Psychotic - Douglas Coupland

All my Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews

All That Man Is - David Szalay

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie

Any Human Heart - William Boyd

Arlington Park - Rachel Cusk

An Officer and a Spy - Robert Harris

Atonement - Ian McEwen

Breath - Tim Winton 

Brooklyn - Colm Toibin

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent (see my review)

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

Conversations with Friends - Sally Rooney

Darkmans - Nicola Barker

Daughters of Jerusalem - Charlotte Mendelson

Digging to America - Anne Tyler

Disobedience - Naomi Alderman

Dissolution - CJ Sansom

English Passengers - Matthew Kneale 

Fingersmith - Sarah Waters

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

God's Own Country - Ross Raisin

Golden Hill - Francis Spufford

Grief is the Thing with Feathers - Max Porter

Harvest - Jim Crace

Home - Toni Morrison

Home Fire - Kamila Shamsie

Hope: A Tragedy - Shalom Auslander

How to be Good - Nick Hornby

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things - Jon McGregor

I'll Go to Bed at Noon - Gerard Woodward

Late in the Day - Tessa Hadley

Legend of a Suicide - David Vann

Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

Midwinter Break - Bernard MacLaverty (see my review)

Mister Pip - Lloyd Jones

Mothering Sunday - Graham Swift

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

Notes on a Scandal - Zoë Heller

NW - Zadie Smith

Old Filth - Jane Gardam

Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout

Small Island - Andrea Levy

Spies - Michael Frayn

Star of the Sea - Joseph O'Connor

Stay with Me - Ayobami Adebayo

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon

The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood

The Book of the Heathen - Robert Edric

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Was - Junot Diaz

The Constant Gardener - John Le Carré

The Corrections - Johnathan Franzen

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

The Forgiven - Lawrence Osborne

The Green Road - Ann Enright

The Interestings - Meg Wolitzer

The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst

The Little Red Chairs - Edna O'Brien

The Noise of Time - Julian Barnes

The Plot Against America - Philip Roth

The Road - Cormac McCarthy (see my review)

The Secret River - Kate Grenville

The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry

The Siege - Helen Dunmore

The Son - Philipp Myer

The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead

The We Came to the End - Joshua Ferris

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

The Year of Runaways - Sunjeev Sahota

The Yellow Birds - Kevin Powers

The Zone of Interest - Martin Amis

Train Dreams - Denis Johnson

True History of the Kelly Gang - Peter Carey

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

West - Carys Davies

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

You Don't Have to Live Like This - Benjamin Markovits

Novels in Translation

All for Nothing - Walter Kempowski

Alone in Berlin - Hans Fallada

Austerlitz - W.G Sebald

Flights - Olga Tokarczuk

Frog - Mo Yan

Limonov - Emmanuel Carrère

Lullaby - Leila Slimani (see my review)

My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante

Submission - Michel Houellebecq

Suite Francaise - Irène Némirovsky

The Explosion Chronicles - Yan Lianke

The Great Swindle - Pierre Lemaitre

The Unseen - Roy Jacobsen

The Yacoubian Building - Alaa Al Aswany

War & Turpentine - Stefan Hertmans

Your Face Tomorrow Trilogy - Javier Marias



Did I Love those 21st Century Novels that I have read? Pretty much yes. I certainly loved, and remember loving English Passengers, Burial Rites, We Need to Talk About Kevin, True History of the Kelly Gang, The Road, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (and I saw the totally amazing stage adaptation in Sydney last year).  I had forgotten that I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad. And I really, really hated The Life of Pi. Well I loved it until the end, and then I think I literally threw it across the room. 

15 isn't a bad effort for me, but I've shamefully not read any of the works in translation. Several of them are of course waiting for me on my shelves. So much more work to do...

July 2020 16/100

Wednesday 24 April 2019

A bad birdwatcher's companion

I listened to this very delightful audiobook recently after I saw Aimée Anders talking about it on her lovely book tube channel. Aimée is Dutch, and we often have quite similar interests including bird books. I was soon seeking this book out on Audible. I'm so glad I did. 

Simon Barnes is nothing like a bad birdwatcher to my mind, despite his best efforts to deny it. 

A bad birdwatcher is me, a bad birdwatcher is you. A bad birdwatcher is anyone who looks at birds and feels a lift of the heart - but doesn't have to do anything about it. If you don't take accurate field notes; if you don't keep a bird diary; if you are a mite hazy on the differences between a first winter lesser black-backed gull and a second winter herring gull; if you don't know what a rachis is, still less a supercilium; if you don't own a telescope and above all if you don't keep lists then you are a bad birdwatcher. 
I certainly feel that lift of the heart, and I certainly am a bad birdwatcher- by anyone's definition, not just Simon Barnes'. My name is Louise and I am a bad birdwatcher. I didn't know what a rachis was, or even how to spell it- I had to go to Amazon and Look Inside a text copy of this book to work out how I might even try to spell it. I did know that supercilia had something to do with eye brows. 
We are drawn to birds because above all else they can fly. 
The subheading .... or a personal introduction to Britain's 50 most obvious birds, gives a more obvious clue to the actual content of the book beyond the foreword. Simon Barnes gives us a bird a chapter for 50 chapters, helpfully divided in to section as to where you might find them - Garden, City, Sky, Seaside etc. The final section is Pilgrimage Birds, those birds that are worth travelling to the "cathedrals of wild Britain" to see - avocets, Bewick's swan and bittern amongst them. Each chapter begins with a little handy guide to help bad birdwatchers see each bird. 

Where to look: gardens, spade handles, Christmas cards
When to look: all year
What to look for: red breast
What to listen for: thin, pretty song

Then because of the magic of audio were are treated to a snippet of their bird song. This quite often alarmed my dog if I was listening to it at home. I was most excited to hear the whoom, whoom of the booming bittern. I so need to hear that for myself. Australasian bitterns boom too, but it's a bit different.

Even though this an English book about English birds, I was actually familiar with a goodly number of them at the start. Many of these very common English birds - blackbirds, sparrows, pigeons and starlings etc - were introduced into Australia, brought by English settlers in the nineteenth century to bring a piece of home with them. That goldfinches were popular cage birds in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is most certainly why I have been able to watch them out of my kitchen window in Australia. 

Simon Barnes is a skilled journalist and author and a wonderful English sense of humour flows through the whole book. 

Where to look: any bit of water, once seen in trios over mantlepieces, now almost extinct in this environment
When to look: all year
What to look for: green head, orange feet
What to listen for: quack, quack

That's not to say that there are not some serious discussions, on the distressing nature of nature, and human activities. I realised a number of years ago that pretty much every living creature gets eaten by some other living creature. It can be rather visible with birds. 

I have received many a heartrending letter from nice people who put out food for the birds and then feel guilty when a sparrow hawk bursts in and takes a blue tit just as he's tucking in to the peanuts. I sympathise with the distress, but blue tits eat caterpillars which is not all that pleasant for the caterpillars. It's not nice, no, but then as I've said before the fact is that nature is not nice. Beautiful, thrilling, challenging, enthralling and altogether wonderful yes, but nice no. 
Sparrow hawks eat nice birds just as lions eat nice antelopes. Both sights can be distressing I know, I've seen both in extraordinary detail. It is all the sadder when the sparrow hawk fails to kill the bird with his first attack, as is quite often the case. His victim must then die a piteous and protracted death during the plucking and the eating. Still, that is the way that life works and anyway the blue tit whatever else you can say has certainly lead a better life than a battery chicken. Humans are much crueler than sparrow hawks. 
The chapter on pheasants is particularly fascinating in this regard.  
Pheasants are ground birds by inclination, they run well and forage on the grounds for seeds and insects, they're not fussy feeders and they'll take a wide range of food. That makes them relatively easy to keep and means that the wild and semi-wild birds don't find it hard to survive.... They might have evolved to please a man with a shot gun. They get up to fly with great reluctance and when they do they keep low because they have heavy bodies and do not have huge stamina. Thus a flushed pheasant becomes an instant target for what some people refer to as sport. Personally, I can't see the pleasure in blasting fat, half-tame birds to bits, especially when they're incompetent flyers.
Pheasants are of course an introduced species in the UK, introduced before the Normans, and the preference of pheasants for sheltering in copses and small woods has meant that these areas have been left to break up the farmland of rural England, helping preserve biodiversity. 
.... without the blood lust for the lovely ungainly pheasant we would have a greatly impoverished countryside. 
I had no idea that pheasants were reared artificially and released to the wild for this sport. "Pheasants are perpetually doomed birds, and they have given the countryside life."
I also had no idea that there are (incorrect) theories that magpies are responsible for the decline of song bird populations in the UK. Hint- "it's mostly to do with changes in farming practice".

Nature does not exist in order to seek the moral approval of humankind. It is about surviving, breeding, and the ultimate goal of becoming an ancestor. 
Or that the Great Crested Grebe was known as Arsefoot in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries because of the relative placement of their feet to their um, arse. 

Picture source

Simon Barnes is endlessly encouraging for us bad birdwatchers to get out there and look at birds, and I greatly enjoyed his enthusiastic narration.

A growing interest in birds is rather like looking for stars at dusk on a frosty night. The more you look, the more you see.... The birds were always there, but when you become a bad birdwatcher the world is made new again.
Learn to listen and there will be so many more birds in your life. 

Peregrines are perhaps the ultimate pilgrimage bird, and they are an inspiration. An inspiration to carry on, to see more birds, to enjoy birds more, to enjoy life more.
To write this post I got what I thought was the physical book of this audiobook from my library, but it turns out it was an earlier, related Simon Barnes book - How to be a bad birdwatcher. I will of course need to read that now too. I am becoming more and more convinced that actually finishing a book does nothing whatsoever as to actually decreasing the reading you have ahead of you, instead it actually increases the number of books you want to read. 

I expect that I'll listen to A bad birdwatcher's companion again, hopefully before a trip to the UK sometime soon. 

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Mr Salary

I've been aware of Sally Rooney for some time, but naturally haven't got to reading either of her two very famous novels, Conversations with Friends or Normal People, even though I've been meaning to. So I was very excited to see Mr Salary in the very cute (but overpriced) Faber Stories series. It would be the first Faber Stories edition that I would buy, and the first I read. 

Mr Salary is the story of Sukie Doherty returning to Dublin from Boston to see her father, Frank, who is in hospital and is dying. They've had a difficult relationship

Frank had problems with prescription drugs. During childhood I had frequently been left in the care of his friends, who gave me either no affection or else so much that I recoiled and scrunched up like a porcupine. 
This is despite the fact that Frank has been a single father, or perhaps it is because Sukie's mother had died soon after her birth. Sukie (which seems a rather un-Irish name to me, is it really an Irish name?) will be staying with Nathan, an older family friend who she had lived with when she was a student. 

In my second year of college we ran out of savings and I could no longer pay rent, so my mother's family cast around for someone I could live with until my exams were over. 
There has always been more the possibility of something more to their relationship though. The cover blurb summarises it nicely
With her minute attention to the power dynamics in every day speech, she builds up sexual tension and throws a deceptively low-key glance at love and death. 
Mr Salary is such a small morsel, 33 (tiny) pages. Easily read in one session, although in my usual form I managed to fall asleep just before the end... Mr Salary was like an amuse-bouche for my planned Sally Rooney degustation. It has certainly whetted my appetite. 

Sally Rooney's first published story was actually nonfiction - an essay about her time as a competitive debater, Even If You Beat Me in The Dublin Review. Mr Salary was shortlisted for the 2017 Sunday Times/EFG Short Story Award. She has been dubbed the First Great Millenial Novelist so it's great to finally get started on reading her work. 

Mr Salary was originally published by Granta in Granta 135 New Irish Writing in 2016.  It is actually freely available online

Faber Stories is a collection of short stories to celebrate Faber's 90th anniversary by publishing "masters of the short story form". These are delightful little treats, but I think overpriced in Australia at $8. 

Friday 19 April 2019

George and the Great Bum Stampede

I've been reading and listening to quite a lot of fairly heavy duty nonfiction lately. The Power of Hope. Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race. All great, and interesting, and important books. But it's a somewhat unusual phase for me. So when I saw Cal Wilson's first kids book on the shelves I knew it was for me. Cal Wilson is a comedian, and she is very funny. I've enjoyed her on the tele, and seen her as part of the Sydney Comedy Festival Roadshow at some stage. 

George and the Great Bum Stampede is the first of what seems to be a series about the Pepperton family. They Peppertons are a zany and fun family. Mum is Professor Pippa Pepperton, a crazy scientist type who is always making wacky inventions. She has already shrunk George's brother Poco to the size of a lemon. His sisters are Pumpernickel, Paprika and Pilates. Pepperton Perfection. 

This book tells the tale of The Worst Week Ever. This involves ghastly new neighbours - the rich and super snobby Finleys - including their son Princely Farnsley Finley and an incident with one of Professor Pipperton's best inventions The Pepperton Replicator.  

The whole book is chock full of bums, and when there are this many bums then the fart jokes can't be too far behind! I especially love the notion of the startle fart, or fartle, and every 8 year old in existence will too. I laughed out loud and chortled more than is seemly for the middle-aged.

There are great illustrations by Sarah Davis that really add to the humour. The layout is fabulous with interesting fonts and use of space. I thought I didn't know Sarah Davis's name, but she illustrated the delightful Violet Mackerel books by Anna Branford (see my review). 

I'm going to donate my copy to my favourite local Primary School to share the fun with the intended audience. I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of George and the Great Brain Swappery in July. 

Cal Wilson is of course a Kiwi, but has lived in Australia for a long time, so I'm going to claim her for AWW2019. I hope she doesn't mind. 


Thursday 18 April 2019

Newcastle Writers Festival 2019

I so enjoy going to Newcastle Writers Festival each year in early April. It's one of my very favourite festivals for so many reasons. I get to catch up with lots of family and friends. NWF always puts on such a great line up - lots of free sessions that you can actually get in to. The compactness makes it fabulous to attend - you can actually attend back to back sessions easily.

I always line up too many sessions at NWF, so much temptation.... but I managed to limit that a bit this year, and went to a sensible number of sessions so I didn't feel too brain dead at the end of the day.

Kon Karapanagiotidis

This year I saw:

Fr Rod Bower
Mark Brandi
Jane Caro
Trent Dalton
Clementine Ford
Chris Hammer
Kon Karapanagiotidis (twice!)
Anisa Nandaula
Emily O'Grady
Holly Throsby
Gillian Triggs

A predominantly nonfiction experience! Very unusual for me. But writers festivals are definitely places to push the boundaries. 

Chris Hammer and Holly Throsby

I was sad to miss out on so many others, but especially:

Claire G Coleman
Ginger Gorman
Chloe Hooper
Ben Quilty

I do so love a festival bookshop. So much potential, and all those lovely stacks waiting to be touched and poured over. Provided here by Macleans Booksellers

All set up and ready to go
So pretty. So tempting. I fell. Naturally.
Nowhere near enough copies,
these were quickly sold out
I already had a copy of By Sea & Stars
I wanted to buy Boy Swallows Universe
but they only had nasty mass market paperbacks.
Book snob? Youbetcha

My NWF2019 book stack:

I took three with me to get signed
and bought three there

Naturally I bought another (rather large) stack of (new and second-hand) books whilst travelling to and from Newcastle. At some old favourites: Better Read Than Dead in Newtown. Megalong Books in Leura. And a visit to a new favourite: The rather huge Salvos store at Tempe.

The Top 10 NWF2019 Bestsellers:
  1. Speaking Up by Gillian Triggs
  2. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
  3. Kerry O’Brien: A Memoir by Kerry O’Brien
  4. Boys Will Be Boys by Clementine Ford
  5. Accidental Feminists by Jane Caro
  6. The Power of Hope by Kon Karapanagiotidis
  7. One Hundred Years of Dirt by Rick Morton
  8. Scrublands by Chris Hammer
  9. Outspoken by Rod Bower
  10. Up to Something by Katrina McKelvey and Kirrili Lonergan

Newcastle Writers Festival do a great job of providing entertainment between sessions too. This year there were beach chairs set up in Wheeler Place with headphones to listen to short stories. 

Yes, guitarpwriter needs to be
seen, and heard, to be believed
Another great feature of NWF (well serendipitously at least) is that on Saturday the Olive Tree Market is across the road in Civic Park. I picked up some fab Charcoal & Mint Botanical Toothpaste from Lovebyt. A refillable deodorant from Asuvi! And I might have splurged on a fabulous lariat necklace from Olivia Raymond. My second of hers. 

I snacked on Halouminati Fries from
The Haloumi Hut

having already filled up on particularly incredible Crispy Skinned Chicken at Dumpling Flavour on Darby Street when I had an early lunch with friends. 

Due to travel commitments I think Newcastle will be the only writers festival that I can fit into my busy schedule this year - which is rather 😢 obviously. At least it was a good one. I'll have to try to attend a new festival next year to help me along my quest to go to all the book festivals in Australia. Adelaide,  Byron and Brisbane all sound so promising. 

NWF 2015
NWF 2016
NWF 2017
I couldn't make it for NWF 2018

Saturday 13 April 2019

Forage 2019

Forage is always one of my favourite events of the year. A highlight of Foodweek in Orange, it sells out every year- and usually in minutes.Today was the 9th Forage. I think it was my 8th. I was there at the first one in 2011, and was so happy to be back there again today. Back in 2011 there were a mere 350 Foragers, now there are 1500 keen participants each and every year ready to eat a 9 course degustation menu and drink the  matching wines over a 4.1km course. 

Greek Salad of Lamb and Feta
Highland Heritage Estate
We've just gone to level 4 water restrictions locally. It's pretty dry.

It's still lovely to walk through the vines though. 

Beetroot in Filo
Village Bakehouse

I really appreciated the focus on biosecurity and that Forage has become a certified Sustainable Event. All the plates and bowls were compostable which is fantastic. 

Leek and Potato Soup
Groundstone Cafe

It was a beautiful afternoon, quite temperate, just beautiful.

Station 4 was looking magnificent. 

As was the Beef and Kasundi Fatteh from Franklin Road Preserves

It seems I forgot to take any photos at Station 5, I must have been feeling too relaxed by this stage... everyone else was making the best of the local wines- I don't even have that as an excuse. 

The sunset put on a spectacular show. 

Rum and raisin ice cream with Anjou pear
Agrestic Grocer
It's fascinating to watch the evolution of Forage as an event. And also to see the profound difference that the weather has made to the conditions each year. 

Forage 2011
Forage 2012
Forage 2013
Forage 2014
Forage 2015
Forage 2016

I think I didn't go to Forage 2017 as it clashed with Newcastle Writers Festival - my other go to April event, and it appears that I was too slack to blog about Forage 2018. Oops.