Book Perfect – Virago

Virago is an international publisher of books by women for all readers, everywhere.  Established in 1973, their mission has been to champion women’s voices and bring them to the widest possible readership around the world.  They found me!  From fiction and politics to history and classic children’s stories, their writers continue to win acclaim, break new ground and enrich the lives of readers.  That’s me!  Read on…

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My Goodreads Book Review

Superb anthology of the last forty years of Virago Modern Classics with a gorgeous bookcover illustration. Great for readers who appreciate women writers and also for students studying literature. Each contemporary author writes a sincere and thoughtful introduction from their own perspective as a reader. They cover the classics, from fiction and comedy to famous diaries and autobiographies. For example, Margaret Drabble discusses Jane Austen ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and further on Jilly Cooper talks about E. M. Delafield ‘The Diary of a Provincial Lady’. Although I’ve not read ‘Strangers on a Train’ by Patricia Highsmith, I think Claire Messud has convinced me to read it. At the end of Amanda Craig’s introduction on Rebecca West ‘The Fountain Overflows’ she says ‘The novel is one of those rare books that leaves the reader feeling happier and more hopeful than before.” And that’s exactly what this Virago Modern Classics makes me feel https://www.goodreads.com/gretchenbernetward

Virago Publisher of Women Writers

Virago celebrated their fortieth anniversary of Virago Modern Classics, Virago Press published the book I so eagerly purchased ‘Writers as Readers’, an anthology of forty introductions from the last four decades…books that deserve once again to be read and loved.  Virago also reintroduced the iconic green spines across their whole booklist.

Virago has a huge booklist, I’m sure you’ve read several of their titles, and rather than me listing every book available, you can visit their beautiful website:
https://www.virago.co.uk/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Fear of Joining Goodreads

Yes, fear that I will become addicted.  Fear that I will push myself to read a gazillion books a year so I can frantically, faithfully rate and review them.  Fear that I will get hooked on groups, authors, discussions, surveys and polls—or even worse, a bestseller—and thus lose my individuality.

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What if I was swamped by a wave of literary-ness which swept away my identity and I became a book character, never able to reach the shores of reality,  adrift in a choppy sea of font and words, desperately swimming towards the final chapter so I could beach myself on that last blessed page?

It didn’t happen.

I know this because I have finally joined the ranks of Goodreads readers.

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Why did I join?  Because I was caught, hook, line and sinker by a single author and her book ‘The Rose and The Thorn’.

In August 2019, I posted my very first Goodreads review on Indrani Ganguly’s historical novel (also here on my blog) and the Hallelujah choir sang.  That was it!

I think I shelved about twenty books in one hit.  Then about thirty, then more, and before I knew it I was writing reviews; albeit after I sussed out their (ssshh, whisper here) rather archaic system.

Without fear, without favour!  I am part of Goodreads for better or worse!

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So far I have followed a couple of authors I enjoy, and a couple of groups which seem relevant to my reading tastes.  I encompass miscellany, similar to my blog, so I am open to your book reading suggestions.

Take a peek, you may find the same book we both have read . . . but will our rating or review be the same?

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/101014600-gretchen-bernet-ward

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Brisbane Writers Festival Notes Part 3

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‘The World Turns’ by Michael Parekowhai. In his bronze casts, the small native water rat, the kuril (seen near the 5-metre tall elephant) is the hero. Along with the traditional Aboriginal custodians, the kuril is one of the caretakers of the land on which Gallery of Modern Art and this sculpture stand beside the river.

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear.  First, Jasper Fforde ‘Book Club’ up close and personal on the River Deck at State Library of Queensland, commencing at the civilised time of 10am.  I only managed one rather dull photograph because I didn’t feel comfortable breaking the reverent atmosphere.  Other times, it’s just not polite.

I waited with a friendly group of fans (all with different favourite books) as savoury snacks, cheeses, fresh fruit and small packs of mixed nuts were being put on low tables between an eclectic selection of chairs.  I watched the bar staff setting up with wine and soft drinks.  Scatter cushions were put on long low bench seating and I had my eye on a nice cosy corner.

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Left to right – book reader guest, Jasper Fforde, moderator, on the River Deck at State Library of Queensland looking across the Brisbane River towards the city.

Guest-of-honour Jasper Fforde talked about his 20-year career working in the film industry with some big names before he decided to write full-time.  He has 14 books under his literary belt.  These books are called post-modern, sort of parallel universe crime novels; he takes our world and tweaks it.  For example, Spec-Ops Thursday Next lives and works inside books, and in ‘Early Riser’ the Welsh population hibernate throughout winter with strange dreams and unsettling encounters.  Have a read of this New York Times review.  Jasper discussed his writing style, his books, and forthcoming standalone ‘The Constant Rabbit’.

Unfortunately I do not remember the name of our moderator, I know she taught creative writing.  She kicked off the Q&A session for us but we were a rather sedate bunch so no fierce debates ensued.  I asked Jasper about the gender ambiguity of Charlie Worthing in ‘Early Riser’ and how it was questioned on social media, adding it must have been difficult to write but it works.  The closest example mentioned was Virginia Woolf and ‘Orlando’ which contains gender androgyny.

As we sat and snacked and sipped, the view across Brisbane River towards the city was ever-changing.  CityCat ferries, a police patrol boat, the Kookaburra Queen paddle wheeler, and a jet boat or two cruised by, almost like a continually scrolling film.

Time was up!  All too soon it was over and I was smuggling a packet of mixed nuts into my bag for later.  I decided to get serious with the bookshop and purchased the items you see below.

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You know what happens, you go in browsing the books and next thing you are looking at all the book-related paraphernalia. Saw this book lover’s mug and couldn’t resist buying it. Happily, it features most of my favourite classics but it is a big mug and so far I haven’t been able to finish a full beverage.

Last item on my agenda, last but not least, was the Closing Address ‘This Way Humanity’.

Soon evening and 5.30pm arrived, as did the audience who piled into The Edge auditorium to hear Jasper Fforde’s closing words on a pretty heavy topic.  He delivered a personal 40-minute speech, going straight to the heart of the matter, raising pertinent questions on our future.  He gave examples about past, present and Little Daisy as yet unborn but what of her future.  Thoughts on where humanity is headed and the universal importance of literacy and book-reading and how we must dare to ignite and explore our imagination.

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The Edge auditorium, the audience hushed as Jasper Fforde delivered his 40-minute closing address entitled ‘This Way Humanity’.

To be honest, I couldn’t absorb all of the closing address, a thought-provoking mixture of insights and humour, and I’m hoping it will be available online for everyone to read.

By now I was getting hungry.  After a stroll through South Bank Parklands with family, we dined at the delightfully casual South Bank eatery Hop & Pickle where I had a super-duper fresh fish supper.

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After the Closing Speech, a stroll through South Bank Parklands and a relaxed dinner at Hop And Pickle on Little Stanley Street. “Proud purveyors of pub gastronomy”

On the walk back to the bus station, we bought sweet treats from Doughnut Time.  Yum!

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Walking back to the Cultural Centre bus station and just happened to spy the hole-in-the-wall Doughnut Time. Exotic delights with gorgeous names and way too much sugar and spice and all things nice. Yes, they did make it home before being devoured!

As you can see, I attended morning and evening events over the four days.  I travelled by council bus to and from each event.  That adds up to 10 bus trips of approximately 45 minutes duration each.  Yes, tedious, but I saved on parking fees and had a relaxing read during the journey.  Sometimes the bus was almost empty and on the last night it was packed so I stood up the whole way.

My visits were concentrated on one author (as you would have deduced!) yet each event was varied in presentation and content and I am very happy with the outcome.

I started my journey in the early morning with a smokey orange sky over the city.  Here is the same spot four days later looking twinkly in the late evening as I say goodbye to Brisbane Writers Festival for another year.  Safe travels, Mr Fforde.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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The Ending – nightlife – view from South Bank footbridge, looking across the river towards Brisbane City.

Three Things #5

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One post with three acts READING LOOKING THINKING based on the format started by innovative blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley of Book Jotter.  

Her invitation to participate offers a change from THINKING to DOING if that suits your purpose but my TBR is backing up and I need to list seven of the books I desperately WANT TO READ—which, er, goes over the Three Things limit.  I just want to blab about these great books 😃 GBW.


These two books are side-by-side because they involve food and drink.

Todd Alexander

has written a humorous memoir of his escape to the country.  I did hear him at an author talk but he didn’t divulge the full story.  ‘Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga’ is sometimes sad, sometimes gruesome but I’m hoping it’s an uplifting story of the joys of living on the land.
http://www.toddalexander.com.au/

Maria Donovan

set her novel ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ against the backdrop of real events in 2012, a time in Michael’s life when everything is turned upside down.  Cricket, football and the seaside are woven through the story as he strives to make sense of the changes involving death, suspicious neighbours and a school bully.
https://mariadonovan.com/


This is a mixed bag of goodies sharing the same photographic background.

Sally Piper

has golden wattle on her bookcover (I’m allergic to pollen) but the inside of ‘The Geography of Friendship’ greatly appeals to me.  The blurb reads ‘We can’t ever go back, but some journeys require walking the same path again’.  I won this novel at UQP behind-the-scenes publishing event.
http://www.sallypiper.com/

David Malouf

is an Australian icon.  I couldn’t begin to details his many and varied works here but his poetry is brilliant.  The ‘An Open Book’ flyleaf reads ‘Malouf reminds us of the ways poetry, music and creativity enrich our lives . . . about the dynamics of what escapes and what remains’.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Malouf

Simon Cleary

lives in my city of Brisbane.  He has written two novels about war and its devastation.  ‘The War Artist’ . . . ‘tackles the legacy of the Afghanistan war and the crippling psychological damage of PTSD’ and follows the shattered life of Brigadier James Phelan when he returns to Australia.
http://www.simoncleary.com/

Katherine Battersby

writes the most adorable children’s picture books.  I have been a fan of Squish Rabbit since his first appearance and assisted Katherine at one of her library book launches.  Forty children were expected and 140 turned up!  ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’ is my favourite so far; profound and endearing.
https://katherinebattersby.com/


I love bold bookcovers which alone tell a tiny bit of the story.

Hank Green

was recommended to me by a librarian with hair dyed pink, orange and green.  A reader of quirky books like me (although my hairstyle is more conservative) she advised that this book is a bit different.  And, yes, he’s the brother of John.

I have to say I have no idea what is in store for me with ‘An Absolutely Remarkable Thing’ so I will just leave you with the quote ‘In Hank Green’s sweeping, cinematic debut novel, a young woman becomes an overnight celebrity when her YouTube video goes viral . . . but there’s something bigger and stranger going on’.
https://www.hankgreen.com/


printable-times-new-roman-alphabet-stencilRight, that’s it, the seven books I’m going to read—not counting those on my ereader—now comes the wait until I post my book reviews.
Ciao for now!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Rattling the Book Club Cage ‘The Noise of Time’

Do you ever throw a literary stink bomb into your book club meetings?  Does a particular book annoy you into spewing a non-positive review?

My recent attendance at a book club gathering certainly raised eyebrows (I guess I’m not highbrow) when I panned Julian Barnes 2016 quasi-biography ‘The Noise of Time’ based on Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

I believe book clubs should read a wide variety of books and not just ‘literary stuff’.  Out of 12 people, only two of us spoke up and voiced our critical opinions without fear or favour.

Read my review below and make of it what you will – this is not a discussion post but it is my opinion and I totally respect yours –


Book Review – ‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

Author Julian Barnes fictionalised biography of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich begins in 1930s and is about the man himself, not necessarily about his music which is a disappointment.

Barnes wants to immerse us in the inner world of Shostakovich, therefore most of the story takes place within the previously uncharted waters of the composer’s own mind.  The rest appears to be gleaned from conventional sources.  There’s a lot of telling and not much showing.

Russian Composer Dmitri ShostakovichFirst up, Shostakovich’s opera ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ is denounced, and while there is tension and foreboding throughout the story, there’s no significantly dramatic scenes after this point.  Shostakovich smokes heavily and is understandably nervous.  He has the fear of Soviet Communism hanging over his head all the time (there’s a peculiar phone call from Stalin) and the dread which Shostakovich seems to pile upon himself.  Like the bookcover illustration, he’s a man always looking over his shoulder but this doesn’t necessarily make edifying reading.

Politics aside, Shostakovich later wrote his Fifth and Eighth Symphonies yet Barnes glosses over a lot of this, using a series of vignettes without delving into that emotional side, so there’s minimal mention of his creative process or the effects of his wife’s death on his family.

The interior dialogue does not expose Shostakovich as an eccentric creative, nor do I think it makes him a likeable protagonist.  Barnes portrays his inner world in an obsessive manner (think clocks, bad luck in a leap year, the elevator scene) and I think he comes across as a bullied child.  One who needs encouragement yet gets slapped down at every turn.

British Author Julian BarnesMy favourite paragraph is when Shostakovich is staying in New York and a woman working at the Soviet consulate jumps out of a window and seeks political asylum.  So, every day a man parades up and down outside the Waldorf Astoria with a placard reading “Shostakovich Jump Thru The Window!” but according to Barnes and other writers this gave him great inward shame.

In strides man-about-town composer Nicolas Nabokov who kindles Shostakovich’s shame so that Shostakovich is trapped by his own timidity, unable or unwilling to stand up and be counted, preferring to talk through the medium of music which is later used to punish him.

For me, this partly true reimagining is not very engaging.  I did learn a couple of new things but even allowing for Julian Barnes writing style, this book doesn’t add anything special to my reading list.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Publisher Penguin Books
https://www.penguin.com.au/books/the-noise-of-time-9781784703332
Author Julian Barnes
http://www.julianbarnes.com/
Composer Dmitri Shostakovich
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitri_Shostakovich

Three Things #4

A snapshot of what’s happening in my reading world.  Three books!  Three genres!  Three reviews!  My theme was originally started by Book Jotter under the title ‘Reading Looking Thinking’ but I’m only doing the Reading part for this installment.

POTENT ROMANTIC COMEDY

OUR TINY, USELESS HEARTS novel by Toni Jordan
https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/our-tiny-useless-hearts

QuoteI couldn’t stop staring at babies and toddlers in the street: their impossibly tiny nails, pores around their noses, the way each hair on their head existed not as an individual but as part of a silken wave.” Janice, Page 125.

Toni Jordan’s new book ‘The Fragments’ has hit the shelves and in preparation I’ve just read her novel ‘Our Tiny, Useless Hearts’ which I think is a clever rom-com story.  Jordan has the knack of writing intelligent gems of heartfelt dialogue from the mouths of sincere characters then setting them in a ludicrous situation.  Well, Caroline’s house isn’t ludicrous, it’s more a trendy vehicle for British-style upstairs, downstairs naughtiness and relevant sex scenes.  The main players are two couples with shaky marriages (think clothes shredding) and the rest have grit in their relationships.  Protagonist Janice (with microbiologist syndrome) is meant to be the sensible one but she has just as many hang-ups as those around her.  Amid the embarrassing yet hilarious turmoil, Janice’s divorced husband Alec turns up.  The tension escalates even higher, a bad case of ‘Who is going to explode into a million pieces first?’.  I was entertained by this book of forthright and dysfunctional people who drew me into their lives.  GBW.
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MINUTIA OF VILLAGE LIFE

THE BOOKSHOP novel by Penelope Fitzgerald
https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780007373833/the-bookshop/

Quote “Browsing is part of the tradition of a bookshop,” Florence told Christine. “You must let them stand and turn things over.” Florence, Chapter 5.

What a sombre little story this is.  I try not to read reviews or publicity first so I was quite impressed when I saw that English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald wrote ‘The Bookshop’ in 1978 when in her sixties.  That’s a lot of life experience, and later a Booker prize.  Fitzgerald had worked for the BBC, taught in schools and ran a bookshop.  I felt the struggles of Florence Green, fictional proprietor of the East Suffolk small town bookshop, were genuine.  Her droll experiences with young helper Christine Gipping appear to be first-hand.  In comparison, I found Mr Brundish, Milo North and the rapper (poltergeist) written along classical lines to add drama.  Village life is parochial and Florence battles with Mrs Gamart and her far-reaching resentment against resurrecting Old House as a bookshop.  Editor Hermione Lee says that Fitzgerald had a ‘tragic sense of life’ and I agree.  But her finesse with dialogue, letter-writing and the unspoken has launched countless tropes.  By all means prepare, this book has more thorns than roses.  GBW.
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INTER-DIMENSIONAL TRAVEL

THE CHRONICLES OF ST MARY’S series by Jodi Taylor
https://www.simonandschuster.ca/series/The-Chronicles-of-St-Marys

Quote “My speciality is Ancient Civilisations with a bit of medieval and Tudor stuff chucked in for luck.  As far as I was concerned, 1851 was practically yesterday.” Maxwell, Book 5.

The term preferred by Dr Bairstow, Director of the Institute of Historical Research at St Mary’s Priory, is ‘contemporary time’.  Jodi Taylor, author of ‘The Chronicles of St Mary’s’ series, writes about a humorous herd of chaos-prone historians who investigate major historical events.  They are led by intrepid historian Madeleine Maxwell (aka Max) Chief Operations Officer.  After costume fittings, the historians travel in pods with armed guards to places like Ancient Egypt, Mount Vesuvius, Great Fire of London, etc, to observe and take notes while Time Police loom threateningly.  Best read in chronological order but Dramatis Thingummy explains characters and each gripping story unfolds, threefold sometimes, as another disaster hits the team.  Historians die; Dr Tim Peterson gets bubonic plague; at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Bard himself catches alight.  There are currently 22 books, in long and short format.  If, like me, you have ever daydreamed of visiting an historic moment in olden times, these books are for you.  GBW.
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Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Snoopy Woodstock Bookstack Cartoon

 

One post with three acts READING, LOOKING, THINKING, an idea started by Book Jotter, innovative blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley.  Her invitation to participate offers a slight change from Thinking to Doing if that suits your purpose.  I can love, like or loathe in three short bursts!  GBW.

Love Your Bookshop Day!

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This year bookshops across Australia are throwing a party and you are invited!

Here’s what their invitation says––

Love Your Bookshop Day is a chance to celebrate what makes your local bookshop great.
Whether it’s for their amazing staff, their carefully curated range or specialisation, a book launch or a must-see events program, we encourage you to visit your favourite bookshop on Saturday 11th August 2018 and join in with the celebrations.

Don’t forget to use the tag #loveyourbookshopday and share why your bookshop is special using the hash tag #whyIlovemybookshop

Get ready to party with those things made of paper with squiggles on them...books!
Visit the official website http://www.loveyourbookshopday.com.au/

DESTINATION:  I’m definitely going to visit Where The Wild Things Are, a wonderfully absorbing children’s bookshop in groovy West End, Brisbane.  See ya!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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