Last month I was interviewed by Web Weekly, a new Neocities site, on behalf of the Reading Project. In that interview I said that my reading interests rarely align with the people around me. Jenny has just finished reading another Harlan Coben thriller, for instance. I’ve never read him. And she has no interest in reading anything I read. Likewise, the overlap between Victoria’s reading interests and my own is minimal. She likes Golden Age crime fiction, for instance, which is an area I’ve read little of. In fact, I was checking, and there are only three books in this entire website, currently, that we have both read and reviewed: The Problem with Murder by Michael Duffy, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and The Tournament by Matthew Riley.
Back in June 2020 Victoria reviewed Pip Williams’s first novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words. It was related to Simon Winchester’s The Surgeon of Crowthorne, which she’d reviewed the previous year (I had recommended it to her, having read it prior to the creation of this website). Both Williams’s novel and Winchester’s non-fiction account told stories about the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Winchester told the true story of William Minor, an incarcerated doctor who contributed to the dictionary. Williams’s novel is a fictionalised story based upon the compilation of the dictionary.
Despite that the book would obviously be of interest to me, I never read it; despite even Victoria’s encouragement that I do. I simply have an enormous backlog of books which will last me years, anyway, and I tend to buy few books now. Even so, Victoria had become interested in the novel because of my recommendation of Winchester’s book. I should have paid some attention and reciprocated with interest. I am a bad person! Victoria would mention the book to me on occasion. But as luck would have it, she found a way this weekend to twist my arm on the matter a little further.
Pip Williams released her second novel The Bookbinder of Jericho, in Australia last week. Victoria was determined to buy it. Much to her delight, she found that a bookstore in Penrith was offering The Dictionary of Lost Words free with any copy of The Bookbinder of Jericho sold, and that was at a discount price. Since she had replaced her original trade paperback with a nice hardcover edition a while ago (the paperback ended up in her book library and has long since been taken) I suddenly found myself with a free copy of Williams’s first novel. Finally, it seems, she has some leverage to get me to read this book!
I shall try to be better in the future!.
I was out walking Lucy, the Reading Project dog, yesterday. I walked her through our local shops which were mostly closed because it was Easter Monday. Nevertheless, there were still a lot of people around and Lucy occasionally decides she wants to stop to meet someone (many know her in the local area) or to sniff, or just be difficult. She’s a little dog, but when she doesn’t want to move she can make it hard to get her moving, short of picking her up. When crossing a major road her particular favourite is to splay on the bitumen, as though she is already road kill. Or she leans to one side and digs all four feet into the ground, like we’re about to face off in a tug-o-war.
If you don’t own a dog and this sounds like mad behaviour to you, I can honestly say I can’t explain her. She loves going walking more than anything, but she refuses to allow her harness to be put on unless she knows there is a treat available. Then she can’t put her head through fast enough.
Sometimes Lucy’s recalcitrance works in my favour. Like yesterday. I was passing the Turning Page Bookshop at the other end of Springwood when Lucy decided she didn’t need to move for a minute or two. We came to an abrupt halt right in front of the display window where I saw a stand of books with a familiar name: Michael Duffy. I learned that he had put out a new book!
Michael is a local author. We reviewed Michael’s first two Bella Greaves novels last year, set here in the Blue Mountains: The Problem with Murder and The Strange Death of Paul Ruel. We also interviewed Michael for the first book. The books are only available across the counter here in Blue Mountains bookstores, or if you order them online at orphanrock.com.
Michael’s new book is titled Tall Stories. I managed to pick up a copy today now that the shops are again open. It features a series of short essays based on Aboriginal history, local legends, historical tales of white settlement in the region and mountain’s culture. It’s one of those chatty books that tell you interesting things you may not know. In his introduction, Michael Duffy describes the book as “the story of my love affair with the Blue Mountains.” The cover features a beautiful illustration by Rui Ricardo which is a pastiche of famous Blue Mountains landmarks and attractions. Inside, the book features engravings from The Picturesque Atlas of Australasia 1886 – 89. I’ve long admired these old engravings since it’s a book I own, myself.
Overall, Tall Stories is a beautifully produced book, and I’m looking forward to reading it in the next month or two. Why so long? That could be the subject of a future blog post!
The International Booker Shortlist was announced yesterday. The International Booker is a prize for a novel translated into English. Both the author and translator share in the prize equally.
Last year I managed to read the entire shortlist for the Booker Prize (books written in English) but read none of the International shortlist except the winner, Tomb of Sand. This was mainly due to time. Once I’d gotten a couple of the Booker read it didn’t seem so hard to finish the rest, especially since Treacle Walker was so short. I’ve actually only read the entire shortlist once before in 2014 when Australian writer Richard Flanagan won for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. That predates this website.
In this year’s shortlist there are two novels, Boulder by Eva Baltasar and Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel that tell a story about a similar situation. Both deal with a same sex couple who desire (at least one of them) to have a child. Standing Heavy by Gauz’ is about undocumented Ivorian workers in France attempting to earn a living. Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov sounds intriguing. It tells the story of a clinic that promises a treatment for Alzheimer sufferers. Rooms are recreated with furniture from past decades to help make suffers more comfortable, but increasingly, it is healthy people who seek out the rooms to escape the horrors of their present time. The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé tells the story of Pascal, a young boy who is presumed to be the son of God, and how this affects his life. Finally, Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan is set in a remote village in South Korea and tells the story of three women who have connections with creatures from the natural world.
Given that this year has not been a good start with unexpected things happening in life, I doubt I’ll get much of either of the shortlists read, other than the winners, especially since I am still trying to get started on some major projects. For those interested in the shortlist the Booker site has a lot more information. Apart from short synopses of each book, it includes interesting statistics about this year’s shortlist, as well as information about the authors and the prize. If you’re interested to read more, click here.
I received an email from a Neocities webmaster a couple of days ago offering to write a review for Khushwant Singh’s 1956 novel about the Indian / Pakistan Partition, Train to Pakistan. For the moment we’re calling our new reviewer “umbritzer” after their website URL. Things are early stages, so that might change. In the meantime, you can take a look at their website which is still in its early stages, too, by clicking here.
The Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced on 27 April. The six selected books are:
Maggie O’Farrell and Barbara Kingsolver are previous winners of the prize and Laline Paull was shortlisted in 2015. The other three are all debut novels. Surprisingly, Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo, shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize, did not make the cut.
The winner will be announced on 14 June 2023.