10 Books: #8 The Secret River

And now for something completely different.

The Secret River

The Secret River

Kate Grenville

I’m going to qualify my inclusion of this book by reiterating these posts are about 10 books that have had a significant impact on me. And this one absolutely did. It is an incredible book. The writing is top shelf. The story is compelling. The characters have depth and substance. They are human and monstrous. It is a very hard book to read, and it hurts to think about. This book opened my eyes to the depth of the injustices done to Australia’s Aboriginal people by white settlers and the awful, unhealed wound of the atrocities white settlers visited upon them (read this & you’ll understand why it can’t heal. Yet, anyway.)

But.

In posting about this book, I acknowledge that the very fact it took a book by a non-Aboriginal woman to bring me to this place of understanding and awareness is, in itself, a perfect example of how the problem – the roots of which are so eloquently and awfully laid bare in this book – continues to exist and perpetuate in Australia today.  Some voices are not given the opportunity and the platform and the amplification that other voices seem to so easily find.

I used to think this was a book every non-Indigeous Australian should read. And to a certain extent, I still do. This is a brilliant book. By all means, if I’ve intrigued you with this post, read it. But what you should do is start with one, or all, of these.

 

 

Advertisements

10 Books: #7 Harry Potter

All of them. For so many reasons.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter and All Of The Things

J K Rowling

A friend lent me the first three HP books when he was heading off on an overseas trip. The fourth one was due out whilst he was away, and he promised me I’d have bought it before he got back. I had resisted reading them until then, thinking “Surely they can’t be all that.” Well, yes. Gregg you smug bastard.

What a comprehensively wonderful story world lives in these pages. This book (by which I mean the entire series), more than any other, encapsulates for me the idea of the story world as a character all on it’s own. I don’t re-read this so much to re-live Harry’s adventures as to just immerse myself in the world, explore Diagon Alley, hang out with Hagrid in his hut, try & find the Room of Requirement, open up the Marauder’s Map to find out who is sneaking around Hogwarts after hours…

10 Books: #6 Howl’s Moving Castle

This book contains my favourite story hero, my favourite sidekick and one of my favourite story magic-systems ever.

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle

by Diana Wynne-Jones

If for nothing else, you have to read this book to meet Calcifer. Calcifer is worth the price of entry alone. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about Calcifer.

This is one of those stories that left me gasping at the ingenious complexity of the plot at the end. Yet the key elements are deceptively simple. The characters are also completely ingenious. Take Howl himself, for example. There are so many aspects of his character that should render him completely repugnant – he’s vain, arrogant, autocratic… Yet he is so utterly and incorrigibly kind-hearted, he’s adorable. And Sophie. Oh Sophie. I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful Sophie is. You just HAVE to read it.

Calcifer

 

Book 10: #5 Persuasion

The first Jane Austen book I ever read.

Persuasion

Persuasion

by Jane Austen

I can’t believe it took me so long to find her. I was in first or second year at uni when this came up on my set list. Oh my goodness. It completely swept me away. It remains my favourite Austen novel (along with P&P). But the romantic tension in Persuasion is certainly the most exquisitely excruciating of any book I’ve ever read. And it doesn’t matter how many times I re-read it, Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne – oh my heart – sweeps me off my feet every time.

10 Books: #4 Beauty

Just one more fairy tale before I move onto other books (I can’t promise there won’t be more later.)

Beauty

Beauty

by Robin McKinley

This is my own rather battered and much-loved copy of this beautiful tale.  I first read it in high school after finding a copy of the hardcover in the library. I probably borrowed it and read it again at least four or five times after that. This book was an utter revelation. This wonderful, beautiful genius of a writer, this word-sorceress named Robin McKinley, had taken a fairy tale – my favourite fairy tale, no less – and turned it into a whole entire novel. I hadn’t known you could do that. It’s this book, more than any other, that made me want to be a writer and taught me what I wanted to write.

And look where I’ve ended up. 🙂

10 books: #3 Red As Blood

Time for a book for grown ups.

Red As Blood

Red As Blood

Or, Tales from the Sisters Grimmer

by Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee is one of my favourite authors, and this is the book that kicked it all off for me. It absolutely taught me that fairy tales could be dark and luscious and very, very adult. These stories also taught me that fairy tales aren’t museum pieces, locked away in amber, forever preserved and unchangeable. This collection showed me how all the stories and motifs I loved in the tales I’d been reading since childhood could be fractured, tilted and tipped over to reflect new themes, or old ones in unexpected ways. Discovering this book was like being Alice and stepping through the looking glass to find  a whole new world of fairy tales to explore that was just as rich and delightful as the world I was familiar with, but with new surprises around every corner.

10 books: #2 The Ordinary Princess

I was a huge reader as a child. So naturally when I think about the 10 books that had the most significant impact on my life, I’ve gone right back to where I started falling in love with stories.

The Ordinary Princess

M. M. Kaye

The Ordinary Princess

I was given this book (with this cover) either for my birthday or for Christmas when I was 6. I still have it. 🙂

I think it might be perfect.

It’s a fairy tale (tick), but it totally subverts all the usual elements of fairy tales (tick) and does so with the most delightful, gentle-yet-slightly-snarky, understated humour (tick). It’s romantic (tick). It’s beautiful (tick). It’s got a strong, independent heroine who isn’t going to let other people’s expectations mess with her life choices (tickety tick tick tick). It’s got castles and forests and fairies (cranky ones) and climbing out of windows and running away…

This story absolutely set my ideal of exactly what a fairy tale princess is supposed to be.

10 books: #1 The Enchanted Wood

There’s a Facebook thing I got tagged in recently, where you put up ten posts of books that have had a significant impact on your life. But I’m a multi-platform kinda girl, so here you go.

The Enchanted Wood

The Enchanted Wood

by Enid Blyton

This was the first chapter book my mother ever read me. I can remember sitting in bed, feeling nervous because she was holding a book that didn’t really have any pictures in it. It’s OK, she told me. There are a few. And she showed me the simple line drawings – maybe one per chapter – that seemed utterly inadequate to my four year old mind.  I mean… there were whole pages in there with no pictures. How…? What…?

Oh my sweet summer child.

I have subsequent memories of sitting in bed begging her for just one more chapter PLEASE!!! And I’m pretty certain she ended up reading me the entire series more than once. Then I probably read it a few times myself.

This book is absolutely one of the flames that ignited my imagination. I’m sure I owe my fascination with forests to it. Also, it’s a sterling example of my favourite kind of fiction: stories set in an immersive world that is a character all of its own. Just thinking about it takes me back to leaning out the cottage window, seeing the trees with leaves of a darker shade of green than usual, and hearing the sound of their leaves rustling, wisha-wisha-wisha, as though they are whispering secrets to each other…

Cartier cigarette case

I went to the Cartier exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia today. Amongst all the *very* sparkly diamonds (so many sparkly diamonds) and pieces with fascinating stories attached (including Grace Kelly’s engagement ring; a massive duck-egg-sized sapphire that is part of a lost set of jewellery belonging to a Russian Grand Duchess and the tiara that both Queen Elizabeth II and Kate Middleton wore at their weddings, but NOT Meghan Markle, because it was here in Australia ), there was this, which I think was my favourite piece.

IMG_20180617_153307_299

This cigarette case is decorated with an actual fragment of an Ancient Egyptian tablet inset into all those chunks of emerald. Imperialist tendencies to loot the antiquities of other civilisations aside, what a marvellous story prompt…

Purple prose

Hoboy, do I have a very special treat for you.

I was doing a bit of a clean up in my study this weekend and made a couple of hilarious archaeological discoveries. Here’s the first.

Context: I have none. I don’t even remember writing it. I must have been about 11 or 12. I remember discovering Alfred Noyes’ poem The Highwayman around that time, so that’s a possible source of inspiration.

Enjoy.

20180218_13584820180218_13585620180218_13590720180218_13591720180218_13592420180218_13593220180218_13594120180218_13594820180218_13595720180218_14001520180218_14003020180218_14003920180218_14004820180218_14005520180218_140107

(I think she’s kneeling, not pregnant, in that last pic.)

It’s got everything, doesn’t it? A catchy title, killer cover art, kissing (“for two minutes”), broken ankles, drunk highwaymen, secret forest lairs, murder, egg sandwiches…