In November I went to a fascinating talk put on by the Jessie Street Women’s Memorial Library at the Customs House Library at Circular Quay. Have you ever called in there? It’s such a welcoming spot in the heart of the city, basking in the glory of having saved this gorgeous old building. There are meeting rooms and changing exhibitions by local artists, free wi-fi with public access to computers, and a very comfortable lounge if you want to spend a quiet ten minutes while waiting for a friend. And of course a few books, magazines, comics, DVDs and ebooks, as well as newspapers, from all over the world. There is a special room on the first floor for Asian material, and a special room on the ground floor for detective books.
The talk was by Marilla North, an enthusiastic supporter of the works of Dymphna Cusack, author of the Australian classic Come in Spinner. As Marilla says, “everyone should read Come in Spinner”. Not only is it a classic, it is startlingly readable. Despite its chequered history, it has remained constantly in print since first published in 1951, when it had to be abridged because the subject matter - including rape, prostitution and abortion - was considered too controversial. Perhaps you remember seeing the ABC television series in 1990? The story revolves around the lives of three young women working in the beauty salon of a famous hotel during the Second World War. The only drawback is it’s 700 pages, so be sure to have a bookmark handy!
Marilla North is currently working on a biography of Dymphna Cusack, but meantime she has produced Yarn Spinners, which unfortunately does not say clearly on the cover that it’s the story of three of our most famous female writers - Miles Franklin, Dymphna Cusack and Florence James. All three were early supporters of the women’s movement, social justice and human rights. Their story is told by arranging the letters between themselves and their friends from the 1930s to the 1950s. This will be regarded as Volume One of the projected biography. This is all fascinating stuff – not just literary memories – as these women were very active both socially and politically. Be sure to read this. It was first published in 2001 by University of Queensland Press. It’s another big book - 566 pages including index, end notes and a useful historical chronology of the times.
PART 1: I’ve brought home Julia Baird’s wonderful biography, Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Changed the World. This has 696 pages including index and notes. With my bookmark at the ready, I’m plunging into this very readable and fascinating account of Victoria’s life. I’m sure we’re ready for this most personal look at her life. Victoria has been in the public mind lately, what with films and TV series. Find it in history, not biography. It’s worth using a book cover for all these big books. (CONTINUED BELOW)
I recently went to see Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express at the movies. This new production by Kenneth Branagh has aroused a lot of interest, not least because at the end Poirot does not solve the crime; he just offers two suggested solutions! Very annoying, so I was led to read the book again. And guess what? The film is indeed true to the book! I have seen maybe three other versions and I guess this won’t be the last.
Easy reading and not such a big book is Bruce Beresford’s collection of reminiscences, The Best Film I Never Made: And Other Stories About a Life in the Arts (281 pages). These memories are not only interesting, they also show our famous film director to be a very courteous and kindly man, one who had a vision to be a film director all his life (even if his son, when asked to name a director with the initials BB, could only come up with Bernardo Bertolucci!).
2018 has arrived. Abbey’s Bookshop, Language Book Centre and Galaxy Bookshop all look forward to 2018 when we can continue offering you the services of a good bookshop. Our staff are ready and waiting to help you and we've had a wonderful selection of titles in-store over Christmas and into the New Year to tempt you.
PART 2: Well, I made my way with much pleasure through Julia Baird’s big biography of Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Changed the World. Although it looks daunting it is not. It is lightly written, with frequent asides to mention what else was happening in the world at that moment. You feel as if a very well-educated friend is telling you a good story. Quite fascinating. No wonder Victoria is the subject of so many films, TV series and books. I think I have to go and see the film Victoria and Abdul which I passed on before. There’s a good story there.
In my search for some good non-fiction a friend recommended Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor. It is incredible how the East India Company, and then the British Crown, rolled into India and destroyed a very successful medieval economy, extracted huge amounts of money, sent Indian soldiers to fight battles overseas and charged India for that, and made sure Indians were second class citizens. Tharoor tries hard to give some credit to Britain but says he finds it far easier to forgive than to forget. He pours scorn on the praise of Empire in the books by Niall Ferguson and Lawrence James, but recommends a new book by Jon Wilson called India Conquered: Britain’s Raj and the Chaos of Empire. He does delight, however, in telling us that Tetley Tea Company is now owned by an Indian company and that an Indian company recently rescued the British Steel Industry. [Editor's note: Also owned by the Indian company, Tata Motors, are two icons of British motoring, Jaguar and Land Rover]. Previously, by means of regulations about standards, the successful Indian steel industry was almost destroyed, along with shipbuilding). Oh dear! It makes me feel very guilty over the pleasure I have taken watching all those lovely British Raj stories, especially Jewel in the Crown! I was surprised and pleased to find Abbey’s has copies of the famous Raj Quartet stories by Paul Scott. They are The Towers of Silence, The Day of the Scorpion, A Division of the Spoils and Staying on. Enjoy them. Great characters including many historical figures and the very best portrayal of life in the British Raj.
Have you been watching the distressing documentaries on SBS about the Vietnam War? Journalist Neil Sheehan is one of the many people interviewed. His book Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam is regarded as the ultimate classic on this period. John Paul Vann was the American Colonel very unhappy with the progress of the war who was more than happy to leak information to a good journalist.
Over the holidays I read an excellent novel which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2014. It is called We are all Completely Beside Ourselves and is by Karen Joy Fowler. At the beginning, the voice of the college-girl narrator sounds very like Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. However, there is a surprising twist in the middle. To tell you would spoil the surprise! Suffice to say, the rest of the novel not only concerns college-life it also concerns the activities of animal liberationists. A good choice for book clubs – there is plenty to discuss.
Were you also pleased to hear that Kazuo Ishiguro won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature? A good choice I think. Abbey’s has good stock of all his books and Language Book Centre upstairs has titles in both French and German and even a copy of Never Let Me Go in Persian! The titles in English are An Artist of the Floating World, The Remains of the Day (Gift Edition), The Buried Giant, Never Let Me Go, A Pale View of Hills, Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, The Unconsoled and When we were Orphans. Upstairs you can find Nocturnes: Cinq Nouvelles de Musique au Crepuscule, Quand Nous Etions Orphelins, Les Vestiges due Jour, Un Artiste du Monde Flottant, Lumiere Pale sur les Collins, Geant Enfoul, Aupres de Moi Toujours as well as Alles, Was Wir Geben Mussten. Set out to enjoy some really wonderful writing. Remember that there is a lift in the foyer next door to go up to level 1 to our Language Book Centre. Please ask a bookseller to show you where.
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