Tag Archive | Book

Reading This Week – Love & Hunger – Thoughts on the Gift Of Food – Charlotte Wood

Every month I take part in the Book Club on ABC Mid North Coast, which means I have books selected for me to read. It’s like a literary lottery, you never know what you are going to get. You often find yourself reading books you wouldn’t normally choose for yourself.

This month we discussed Love and Hunger by Charlotte Wood. Given I’m not much of a foodie it probably isn’t one I would have ventured into without encouragement.

At first I was a little confused by the work, it combines essays on food,  recipes and tips for cooking. (Did you know you could freeze nuts? This could change my life, do you know how many packets of expensive nuts I have thrown out having only used a quarter of the packet?) I wasn’t sure whether I was reading a memoir or a cookbook. Flicking to the back jacket I read that along with being a celebrated author of fiction, (Animal People, The Children, The Submerged Cathedral) Charlotte is also a blogger, writing about her passion for food at How To Shuck An Oyster and I realised the book was reading to me like a blog. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, it was just moving between topics (all food related) in the way a blog morphs and merges with consistent themes appearing and disappearing. I began to enjoy the book more when I stopped trying to classify it in a traditional format and imagined it as a blog on the page.

The essays which resonated with me the most were Charlotte’s recollections of growing up in the 70’s and 80’s – devils on horseback anyone? The linking of food to the ebb and flow of life was also an emotive theme. A chapter on supplying meals to friends undergoing chemotherapy and the food at wakes reminded me of how food was once a means for showing care and love to friends and neighbours. Charlotte writes movingly of Jim, the bloke next door, who prepared a Christmas lunch with all the trimmings for her family while they were visiting her ill Father in hospital. Or the chest freezer delivered to their home full of casseroles, soups, pies and desserts all of which were restocked each week by the country town community during her Dad’s final illness.

I wondered if we still use food in this way? Funerals of my childhood were held at people’s homes, everyone came bearing a plate of food. Recent departures have usually been followed by a gathering at a club or function room, catering provided. In our busy lives have we lost the ability to give practical support to those around us with home-made food?

The link of food determining a particular time and place in our memory is one which this book had me thinking about. Particular food is forever linked in my mind with certain jobs and places – the cheesy ham pasta made by the little Italian lady at the food court under the AMP Centre where I was studying for my “Advanced Secretarial Diploma” – the country kid in the big city devouring this
Grandma’s comfort food, my introduction to Yum Cha in Sussex Street all grown up in my first radio job but “don’t give me any of the yucky stuff”, the paella from a café at Blues Point Road, the chicken pie from yet another café, this time in Port Macquarie (perhaps another comfort food for a woman returning to the work force after a ten-year hiatus).

Charlotte’s  essays are though provoking –  a distaste for offal signifying a fear of death – our inability to recognise hunger for we never allow our bodies to experience it juxtaposes with people dying on the other side of the world from lack of food.

A love of food is evident in every word of Love & Hunger and Charlotte encourages the reader to simplify and enjoy the art of cooking and the pleasure of sharing it with friends. Suzie, one of my fellow book clubbers, described the book as “warm and engaging”. Emma, the younger of the book clubbers spoke of how her Mum’s cooking has improved recently – as someone smack, bang in the middle of the endless “what’s for dinner” cycle I can imagine when children  are grown it might be easier to take the time to savour the experience of creating a meal. In the meantime, perhaps I can take some lessons from Charlotte’s philosophy and try to occasionally make a little more effort at the evening table – there’s a four-hour spaghetti bolognese that has me intrigued – I might give that a go on Sunday.

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Reading This Week – Silent Fear by Katherine Howell

I love a good crime novel, mystery or thriller. The obsession began with Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, moved through Agatha Christie and into Patricia Cornwell, PD James, Ruth Rendell. If I’m left to my own devices to choose a book to curl up with on a rainy day I wade straight into the murky world of corpses with secrets,  fascinating forensics and crafty characters with issues.

This week I read Silent Fear by Katherine Howell. It’s the fifth in a series of novels centred around Detective Ella Marconi. Set in Sydney the novel has a strong sense of place, with the descriptions of steaming hot summer days, suburban streets and familiar landmarks combining to create an authentic Australian experience.

Paramedic Holly Garland attends a call-out to a collapsed man in a park, only to discover her estranged brother is on the scene. When the suspected heat stroke/heart-attack victim turns out to be wearing a bullet wound Marconi is called in to investigate.

The opening of the novel is strong with Howell’s own experience as a Paramedic resonating through the descriptions of procedure and treatment. The mystery is set up early. Why is Holly so dismayed to see her brother? What is his relationship with the victim? Are the innocent bystanders really innocent? Who would want to shoot a bloke playing touch footy? What role will Holly’s past have on this case?

Garland goes on to be a fascinating and complex personality and one of Howell’s strengths is drawing characterisations with depth and relatable human flaws. Although, as a newcomer to this series, I felt at times Garland overshadowed the character of Detective Marconi and I was a little confused over just who the star of the book was supposed to be. This two-lead alternating point-of-view between the Detective and the Paramedic does, however, give an interesting alternative to the traditional crime novel formula.

The storyline features a pleasing array of red herrings, which get sorted out nicely. There is also a complex arrangement of sub-plots with associated characters which sometimes seemed a little unnecessary but left me wondering if these would perhaps be developed in future novels. Overall the plot kept me guessing for some time and engaged in enough twists and turns to remain interesting to the very end.

I  enjoyed Silent Fear for the strength of its lead female characters and the highly effective portrayal of time and place. I’m left with a keen interest in reading the earlier books in the series.

I read Silent Fear as part of  the Morning Show Book Club on ABC Mid North Coast Radio.

Reading This Week – Watercolours – Adrienne Ferreira

A gifted child, a quirky family, an inexperienced teacher, a mysterious death all jumbled together in a small, country town that’s the essence of Watercolours. This is the debut novel for Adrienne Ferreira and in it she creates an engaging story with a  group of likeable characters.

Watercolours is a gentle book which meanders through the everyday lives of it’s characters highlighting family and love along the way.

The highlight of the book for me is the strong sense of place created throughout the narrative with the river an additional character in the story. “One thing I’ve noticed is that up in the hills where I live, the Lewis is narrow and fast. It’s noisy where it rushes over the rocks, then it creeps along silently in pools like it’s sneaking up on someone. Down in town, where the land is flat, the river turns fat and slow and green. It ripples its long muscles as it winds its way around Morus in a big loop, as if it wants to squeeze the place and swallow it whole.”

The nuances of a rural river town are captured beautifully in this work and anyone who has ever spent time in a small community will recognise  the characters. The go-getting business man who leads the local Rotary Club, the busybody who interferes in the lives of others, the pragmatic neighbour who provides a casserole and friendly advice to the newcomer to town, the hippies up in the hills, for a country girl reading the book is like stepping back into my childhood.

While eleven-year-old Novi wants to fit in at school and in the community, his artistic talent and his eccentric family always leave him a little on the outer. New teacher Dom identifies Novi’s ability and goes about trying to find a way to support the child and his art.

Novi believes his Grandfather was murdered, although the rest of the town see the death as a drowning tragedy during the last big flood. When Novi’s drawings begin to gain a wider audience the mystery unravels.

Ferreira splits the narrative into a number of voices which gives different perspectives on the unfolding events and the past secrets. Love in various forms and chasing dreams are two of the themes which resonant throughout the book and add a poignant undertone to the story.

An enjoyable read.

Reading This Week – There Should Be More Dancing – Rosalie Ham

Margery Blandon, an uptight 79-year-old, is on the 43rd floor of the Tropic Hotel debating whether to jump over the edge. How she came to get there is the basis of There Should Be More Dancing by Rosalie Ham.

Ham, the author of The Dressmaker, portrays a darkly humorous look at the process of aging, the mistakes of life and the vagaries of family.

Margery has lived in the one street for the past 60 years. Arriving as an eighteen year old pregnant bride, life was lived around Margery while she cross-stitched, judged others and engaged in long conversations with her dead twin sister.

Ham does an excellent job of conveying the frustrations of aging. The loss of independence, the body packing it in on you, the inability to control your future. There is also a sense of sadness as you remain stationary while the street you live in changes around you, people die, move away, new families arrive, cute toddlers become teenage hoodlums, renovations begin on the rundown houses, the local drug dealer moves in next door.

Margery engenders both sympathy and rage as we watch her physical decline while refusing to recognise what’s happening around her both now and in the past.

The loss of dreams and hope is evident in both Margery and her family, eldest son Walter a champion boxer injured in a bout, Morris the second son on permanent “holiday” in Thailand, and daughter Judith who Margery suspects may be trying to kill her.

In the end Margery is forced to acknowledge the secrets of the street she has lived in for all these years, the secrets her own family has kept from her. At the Tropic Hotel as she reflects on the life she has led Margery must confront the truth, not just about what has happened but her part in it all.

Ham creates characters who, while behaving badly, still engender a degree of sympathy as each of them carries with them the sense of loss of dreams unfulfiled. The novel certainly confronted the notion of aging in our society and makes you think about how you would consider your own life lived. Was it one of reward, enjoyment and engagment? Or are there regrets? Should there have been more dancing?

Letter to my 16 year old self

Have you seen the book “Dear Me, A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self“? An array of celebrities write a letter to their teenage self. If you could jump in the DeLorean and head back to the future to meet up with the kid you once were what advice would you offer?

Here’s my attempt.

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The List of Books to Read

Pile of books to be read

Over in Twitter world Booktopia asked followers to take a picture of the books in their To Be Read pile. I gathered mine together, a motley collection of library books (must remember to return them), bargain basket buys (OK everyone else read them ages OK but I paid $5 instead of $32 to get ’em), a few that have been on my shelf for ages but I haven’t actually got around to reading  and some newbies that I want to read and blog about.

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