Tag Archive | Books

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.

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 – The Testimony – Halina Wagowska

As time passes The Holocaust of World War II moves further into the pages of history. The tragedies and atrocities are at risk of becoming facts, figures and statistics on a page taught to disinterested students who would rather be at the beach than in a stuffy classroom.

Eighty-one-year-old human rights activist Halina Wagowska counters this with her autobiography, The Testimony.

At ten years of age Halina lives the blissful innocence of a happy childhood with loving parents, she reflects on how those early years develop the resilience that will get her through the next five years enduring unimaginable horrors.

The Testimony is structured into snapshots where Halina deflects attention from herself by devoting each chapter to individuals who crossed her path. Stasia, the Gentile nanny so devoted she joins the family in the ghetto. Frieda, the intelligent scholar who urges survival will mean testifying to what they experienced for the rest of their lives. Sasha, the Russian soldier, who rescues the nearly-dead Halina and nurses her back to health providing her with the first kindness she had experienced for a long time.

There is a sense Halina has kept some of the horror she experienced to herself, although what she shares will cling to your thoughts for days afterwards. The image of a child responsible for carting bodies from the gas chambers to furnaces then lugging the buckets of ash and bone to the nearby swamp is haunting.

However, her youth also provides her with adaptability, a quickly growing sense of rat-cunning, and an ability to focus on the immediate. When the adults around her become overwhelmed by the big picture view of the situation Halina struggles to keep them alive.

Halina continues her story after the war ends and poignantly documents how peace did not necessarily bring joy. Alone and uneducated the teenager must create a new life for herself.

Arriving as an immigrant in Australia she works as a cleaner, studies and ultimately enjoys a career in pathology. The experiences of her formative years, and the influences of those she loved and lost, shape her commitment to human rights, working tirelessly for Aboriginal education, homeless students and bioethics.

The Testimony provides us with a valuable of record of the long-term impact of the Holocaust and a moving personal retrospective paying tribute to those who aren’t here to tell their stories.

Review originally written for the Hardie Grant Book Club.

Top Pick of Parenting Books

When I knew I was pregnant I went seeking advice in a plethora of parenting/pregnancy books. I read everything that was published at the time. Many of them set up impossible standards that even then I knew I was going to struggle with, others spoke down to me, while yet more espoused beliefs that I didn’t feel comfortable with (and often in a very judgemental way).

In the end I developed a few favourites, which even now, many years on from toddler days, I recommend for friends about to begin their parenting journey.

What to Expect the First Year – Heidi Murkoff

This one was my bible – the one I referred to almost daily in the first year (and beyond). It set out clearly what was expected on a month by month basis but assured me not to panic if my child wasn’t at that milestone. While the section on the typical childhood illnesses was very helpful to a panic stricken new mum who thought every cough, splutter, tinge of red on the skin was the plague!

The Complete Secrets of Happy Children – Steve Biddulph

This is one where author and reader values aligned. Biddulph talked in a way that made sense to me the book blurb says it encouraged “affectionate, warm and engaged parenting. How to have discipline without using fear, and how to listen so children tell you their needs and fears before problems arise.   A parent-friendly, funny, and easy to read book about understanding children and how they grow.”

Even today, with children almost fully in the teenage years I still use his advice on how to listen.

Buddhism for Mothers  –  Sarah Napthali

I’m not Buddhist so I don’t even know why I picked this one up at the book store. To be honest I don’t remember much about it because I read it at the height of the mummy overload years with demanding toddlers, no time for myself and feeling completely overwhelmed. What I do remember is the book made me feel calm. It was the right read at the right time. Here’s some of the blurb – “Parenthood can be a time of great inner turmoil for a woman yet parenting books invariably focus on nurturing children rather than the mothers who struggle to raise them. This book is different. It is a book for mothers.”

At the time I also read every book I could find on Montessori Education and much of the philosophy rubbed off on my approach to raising the girls. These were some of my favourites.

What are your favourite parenting books? Where there any that helped you at a critical time? Maybe you are a young Mum currently struggling through the sleep deprived, manic early years are there newer books that you are finding comfort in?

Reading This Week – The Happiest Refugee – Anh Do

In Australia there is a long-running debate on what to do about asylum seekers. In particular, the people who pay money to people smugglers to take to the open sea in a bid to seek refuge in Australia. It’s a political hot-potato, with the issue whipped into a frenzy by a variety of shock-jocks and media commentators. It’s a complex and emotive situation on both sides of the argument.

This book removes the political spin, the inflammatory rhetoric and personalises the issue in a way that nobody with a heart could ignore.

Comedian Anh Do captures the story of his life in this funny, uplifting and deeply moving memoir. In doing so he makes a wonderful tribute to his parents and all the other refugees who risked so much to give their children a better life in Australia.

As a two-year-old Anh and his family came close to dying on the perilous ocean voyage to escape Vietnam. They ward off pirates, dehydration, starvation and storms finally making it to Malysia then Australia.

The following years are no picnic. The courageous father who donned a uniform and boldly walked into a communist re-education camp to get his brother-in-laws out, then captained a tiny boat across the wild seas to transport 39 people to their new life, struggles with the demons of surviving war and tragedy and leaves the family when Anh is thirteen.

The bloody legend of a mother, sews night and day to feed, house, and educate three kids in private school.

The three children work hard, do well and give back to their country.

Anh’s humour has made him a very successful comedian it weaves itself into every page of the book, you laugh out loud often. Then he twists your heart when he shares the  vulnerability of an outsider trying to fit in when there is no money, life keeps dealing blow after blow and you are not sure how it is all going to work out.

Anh was advised not to put the word refugee in the title of the book – “because Aussie’s won’t buy it” – Anh’s response “I have faith in Aussies”. I’m glad we didn’t let him down, the book has sold 150,000 copies and won a slew of awards.

Russell Crowe has brought the film rights and there has been a children’s picture book version released.

I hope The Happiest Refugee makes it to school reading lists because every teenager in Australia should read this book to gain an insight into what it is to be a refugee.